Ecology

Casting new shade onto ecosystem threshholds

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Science  04 Jul 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6192, pp. 43-44
DOI: 10.1126/science.345.6192.43-e

As environmental conditions change, ecosystems can suddenly enter a different and potentially unfavorable state. Researchers have captured such threshold crossings in whole-lake experiments, but it's much harder to study them experimentally in the dynamic open ocean. Thrush et al. cast shade on marine sandflats in New Zealand and looked at what happened to two species of bivalves. They found changes in how the bivalves interacted, in the primary producers that they feed on, and in their physical and chemical environment. Shading causes a loss of positive feedbacks; within about 100 days, the interaction network had shifted to a new configuration. The comparatively simple experimental system helps to identify the risks of threshold crossings.

Bivalves on marine sandflats in New Zealand

PHOTO: S. THRUSH ET AL. ECOLOGY 95, 6 (JUNE 2014) © 2014 ECOLOGICAL SOCIETY OF AMERICA

Ecology 95, 1451 (2014).

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