Escaping herbivory: ocean warming as a refuge for primary producers where consumer metabolism and consumption cannot pursue
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Ocean warming is anticipated to strengthen the persistence of turf-forming habitat, yet the concomitant elevation of grazer metabolic rates may accelerate per capita rates of consumption to counter turf predominance. Whilst this possibility of strong top-down control is supported by the metabolic theory of ecology (MTE), it assumes that consumer metabolism and consumption keep pace with increasing production. This assumption was tested by quantifying the metabolic rates of turfs and herbivorous gastropods under a series of elevated temperatures in which the ensuing production and consumption were observed. We discovered that as temperature increases towards near-future levels (year 2100), consumption rates of gastropods peak earlier than the rate of growth of producers. Hence, turfs have greater capacity to persist under near-future temperatures than the capacity for herbivores to counter their growth. These results suggest that whilst MTE predicts stronger top-down control, understanding whether consumer–producer responses are synchronous is key to assessing the future strength of top-down control.
KeywordsClimate change Phase shift Stability Trophic cascade Metabolic theory
We thank Laura Falkenberg for her valuable assistance. We thank Deron Burkepile for sharing his deep insights on this topic and the anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments. This research was partly funded by the Dr Paris Goodsell Marine Ecology Research Grant and an Australian Research Council (ARC) Project to Bayden Russell and Sean Connell and an ARC Future Fellowship to Sean Connell.
Author contribution statement
N. L. M., S. D. C. and B. D. R. conceived and designed the experiments. N. L. M. implemented the experiments. N. L. M. analysed the data. N. L. M., S. D. C. and B. D. R. wrote the manuscript.
Compliance with ethical standards
The authors declare that the experiments undertaken in this study complied with all laws of the country in which the experiments were performed. The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
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