Anthropogenic stressors from climate change can affect individual species, community structure, and ecosystem function. Marine heatwaves (MHWs) are intense thermal anomalies where water temperature is significantly elevated for five or more days. Climate projections suggest an increase in the frequency and severity of MHWs in the coming decades. While there is evidence that marine protected areas (MPAs) may be able to buffer individual species from climate impacts, there is not sufficient evidence to support the idea that MPAs can mitigate large-scale changes in marine communities in response to MHWs. California experienced an intense MHW and subsequent El Niño Southern Oscillation event from 2014 to 2016. We sought to examine changes in rocky reef fish communities at four MPAs and associated reference sites in relation to the MHW. We observed a decline in taxonomic diversity and a profound shift in trophic diversity inside and outside MPAs following the MHW. However, MPAs seemed to dampen the loss of trophic diversity and in the four years following the MHW, taxonomic diversity recovered 75% faster in the MPAs compared to reference sites. Our results suggest that MPAs may contribute to long-term resilience of nearshore fish communities through both resistance to change and recovery from warming events.
Marine protected areas (MPAs) have gained attention as a conservation tool for enhancing ecosystem resilience to climate change. However, empirical evidence explicitly linking MPAs to enhanced ecological resilience is limited and mixed. To better understand whether MPAs can buffer climate impacts, we tested the resistance and recovery of marine communities to the 2014–2016 Northeast Pacific heatwave in the largest scientifically designed MPA network in the world off the coast of California, United States. The network consists of 124 MPAs (48 no‐take state marine reserves, and 76 partial‐take or special regulation conservation areas) implemented at different times, with full implementation completed in 2012. We compared fish, benthic invertebrate, and macroalgal community structure inside and outside of 13 no‐take MPAs across rocky intertidal, kelp forest, shallow reef, and deep reef nearshore habitats in California's Central Coast region from 2007 to 2020. We also explored whether MPA features, including age, size, depth, proportion rock, historic fishing pressure, habitat diversity and richness, connectivity, and fish biomass response ratios (proxy for ecological performance), conferred climate resilience for kelp forest and rocky intertidal habitats spanning 28 MPAs across the full network. Ecological communities dramatically shifted due to the marine heatwave across all four nearshore habitats, and MPAs did not facilitate habitat‐wide resistance or recovery. Only in protected rocky intertidal habitats did community structure significantly resist marine heatwave impacts. Community shifts were associated with a pronounced decline in the relative proportion of cold water species and an increase in warm water species. MPA features did not explain resistance or recovery to the marine heatwave. Collectively, our findings suggest that MPAs have limited ability to mitigate the impacts of marine heatwaves on community structure. Given that mechanisms of resilience to climate perturbations are complex, there is a clear need to expand assessments of ecosystem‐wide consequences resulting from acute climate‐driven perturbations, and the potential role of regulatory protection in mitigating community structure changes.more » « less
- Award ID(s):
- NSF-PAR ID:
- Publisher / Repository:
- Date Published:
- Journal Name:
- Global Change Biology
- Page Range / eLocation ID:
- p. 5634-5651
- Medium: X
- Sponsoring Org:
- National Science Foundation
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