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Temperature and oxygen supply shape the demersal community in a tropical Oxygen Minimum Zone

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The organisms that inhabit Oxygen Minimum Zones (OMZ) have specialized adaptations that allow them to survive within a very narrow range of environmental conditions. Consequently, even small environmental perturbations can result in local species distribution shifts that alter ecosystem trophodynamics. Here, we examined the effect of changing sea water temperatures and oxygen levels on the physiological performance and metabolic traits of the species forming marine demersal communities along the OMZ margins in the Costa Rican Pacific. The strong temperature and oxygen gradients along this OMZ margin provide a “natural experiment” to explore the effects of warming and hypoxia on marine demersal communities. We identified two distinct marine fauna communities separated by an environmental oxygen partial pressure threshold of 0.003–0.009 atm. The community inhabiting cooler waters with less oxygen was comprised of species with very low oxygen demands, while the second community inhabiting warmer waters with more oxygen was comprised by a higher diversity of species with higher oxygen demands. We also compared the community composition across different El Niño Southern Oscillation phases. During “neutral” and El Niño conditions, with relatively warmer temperatures and higher oxygen levels, species’ average oxygen demand was higher, and species stayed at greater depths than during the cooler, low oxygen, La Niña phases. Our findings suggest that the effects of environmental temperature and oxygen levels on the structure of demersal communities within OMZs can be predicted by understanding species’ oxygen demand. This study highlights the vulnerability of demersal ecosystem structures surrounding the Costa Rican OMZ to deoxygenation and warming under climate change.

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Data available upon request.

Code availability

Code for the Aerobic Growth Index published and available upon request. Clarke TM, Wabnitz CC, Striegel S, Frölicher TL, Reygondeau G, Cheung W W (2021) Aerobic growth index (AGI): An index to understand the impacts of ocean warming and deoxygenation on global marine fisheries resources. Progress in Oceanography 195: 102588. 10.1016/j.pocean.2021.102588.


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ISW appreciates the collaboration with The Rainbow Jewels Company (Puntarenas, Costa Rica). We are grateful for the hard work of the captains and crews of “Onuva” and “Sultana” shrimp trawlers during sampling surveys. We also thank the students and research assistants who collaborated during the fieldwork, lab work, and experimental design of the project (Andrés Beita-Jiménez, Catalina Benavides-Varela, Olga Durán-García, Silvia Echeverría-Saenz, Carlos Garita-Alvarado, Yurlandy Gutiérrez-Jara, Juliana Herrera-Correal, Marisol Luna, Solciré Martínez-Jiménez, Jaime Nivia-Ruiz, Vanessa Nielsen-Muñoz, Jeffry Ortíz-Gamboa, Edgar Villegas-Jiménez, Patricio Hernáez).


The Fondo de Incentivos of the Consejo Nacional para Investigaciones Científicas y Tecnológicas (CONICIT) and the Ministerio de Ciencia, Tecnología y Telecomunicaciones (MICITT) of Costa Rica funded Tayler Clarke’s doctoral scholarship. William W. L. Cheung received support from the Nippon Foundation-the University of British Columbia Nereus Program. Tayler Clarke and William W. L. Cheung received funding support from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (Discovery Grant). Fieldwork along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica was partially financed by the German Government (Ministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung, BMZ), the Ristic AG (Oberferrieden, Germany), and the Universidad de Costa Rica (projects V.I. 111-A4-508; V.I. 808-A9-536, and V.I. 808-A9-537). Additional funds were provided by the Consejo Superior Universitario Centroamericano (CSUCA), University of Kassel, and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) for the project “The carcinofauna of deep waters and its sustainable use in the Pacific of Central America: A regional initiative” as part of the programm “Programa Universidad Desarrollo Sostenible” (PUEDES). TLF received funding from the Swiss National Science foundation under grant PP00P2_170687.

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Correspondence to Tayler M. Clarke.

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Sampling was conducted onboard commercial shrimp trawl fishing boat from the Ristic AG company, and therefore, permits were not required to conduct this sampling.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Clarke, T.M., Frölicher, T., Reygondeau, G. et al. Temperature and oxygen supply shape the demersal community in a tropical Oxygen Minimum Zone. Environ Biol Fish 105, 1317–1333 (2022).

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