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Quantifying the evidence for ecological synergies

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*E-mail: edarling@sfu.ca

Abstract

There is increasing concern that multiple drivers of ecological change will interact synergistically to accelerate biodiversity loss. However, the prevalence and magnitude of these interactions remain one of the largest uncertainties in projections of future ecological change. We address this uncertainty by performing a meta-analysis of 112 published factorial experiments that evaluated the impacts of multiple stressors on animal mortality in freshwater, marine and terrestrial communities. We found that, on average, mortalities from the combined action of two stressors were not synergistic and this result was consistent across studies investigating different stressors, study organisms and life-history stages. Furthermore, only one-third of relevant experiments displayed truly synergistic effects, which does not support the prevailing ecological paradigm that synergies are rampant. However, in more than three-quarters of relevant experiments, the outcome of multiple stressor interactions was non-additive (i.e. synergies or antagonisms), suggesting that ecological surprises may be more common than simple additive effects.

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