Ecology Letters (2010) 13: 685–694
Successful mitigation of negative effects of global warming will depend on understanding the link between physiological and ecological responses of key species. We show that while metabolic adjustment may assist Australasian kelp beds to persist and maintain abundance in warmer waters, it also reduces the physiological responsiveness of kelps to perturbation, and suppresses canopy recovery from disturbances by reducing the ecological performance of kelp recruits. This provides a warning not to rely solely on inventories of distribution and abundance to evaluate ecosystem function. The erosion of resilience is mediated by a shift in adult-juvenile interactions from competitive under cool to facilitative under warm conditions, supporting the prediction that positive interactions may become increasingly important in a warmer future. Kelp beds may remain intact but with a lower threshold for where additional impacts (e.g., extreme storms or reduced water quality) will lead to persistent loss of habitat and ecological function.