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  1. Abstract

    Infectious disease can shape community structure, particularly when pathogens affect foundation species. Seagrasses are foundation species that form meadows along coasts worldwide, controlling sediment deposition and biogeochemical cycling while supporting a diverse community of fish and invertebrates. These plants are hosts to wasting diseases that cause necrotic tissue lesions, which could alter seagrass value as food, habitat and mediators of ecosystem processes. However, such biotic interactions and influences on disease dynamics are still not well understood. We investigated whether a common herbivore affected the development of wasting disease on eelgrass.

    We measured the severity and prevalence of eelgrass wasting disease in a meadow across two summers through repeated field surveys. We assessed the role of the eelgrass herbivore on disease spread and growth using microcosm and mesocosm experiments. We further explored herbivore feeding preferences in a choice trial, which was paired with chemical analysis of plant tissue and analysed using a structural equation model.

    While the herbivore facilitates the growth of new disease lesions among isolated leaves, on balance they reduce lesion severity by more than 50% in comparison with no‐herbivore controls in field‐realistic settings. This was likely because the herbivore strongly prefers to eat diseased rather than healthy tissue, consuming nearly twice as much lesion area in choice trials. This preference arises from pathogen‐driven changes in the host plant; lesioned tissue requires less force to penetrate than non‐lesioned tissue. Additionally, as lesions increase in size, their polyphenolic concentrations drop, which further increases the magnitude of preference for lesioned tissue.

    Synthesis: These results suggest that these herbivores could help maintain disease in this system at a high prevalence (by facilitating disease development) but low severity (through preferential consumption), which is consistent with our field observations of nearly 100% prevalence and low severity in a natural bed where herbivore density is high. Describing such multi‐species interactions in marine systems will advance our predictions of future disease states, as current understandings focus primarily on how environmental change contributes to pathogen outbreaks.

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  2. Abstract

    Temperature increases due to climate change have affected the distribution and severity of diseases in natural systems, causing outbreaks that can destroy host populations. Host identity, diversity, and the associated microbiome can affect host responses to both infection and temperature, but little is known about how they could function as important mediators of disease in altered thermal environments. We conducted an 8‐week warming experiment to test the independent and interactive effects of warming, host genotypic identity, and host genotypic diversity on the prevalence and intensity of infections of seagrass (Zostera marina) by the wasting disease parasite (Labyrinthula zosterae). At elevated temperatures, we found that genotypically diverse host assemblages had reduced infection intensity, but not reduced prevalence, relative to less diverse assemblages. This dilution effect on parasite intensity was the result of both host composition effects as well as emergent properties of biodiversity. In contrast with the benefits of genotypic diversity under warming, diversity actually increased parasite intensity slightly in ambient temperatures. We found mixed support for the hypothesis that a growth–defense trade‐off contributed to elevated disease intensity under warming. Changes in the abundance (but not composition) of a few taxa in the host microbiome were correlated with genotype‐specific responses to wasting disease infections under warming, consistent with the emerging evidence linking changes in the host microbiome to the outcome of host–parasite interactions. This work emphasizes the context dependence of biodiversity–disease relationships and highlights the potential importance of interactions among biodiversity loss, climate change, and disease outbreaks in a key foundation species.

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  3. Abstract

    Environmental change is multidimensional, with local anthropogenic stressors and global climate change interacting to differentially impact populations throughout a species’ geographic range. Within species, the spatial distribution of phenotypic variation and its causes (i.e., local adaptation or plasticity) will determine species’ adaptive capacity to respond to a changing environment. However, comparatively less is known about the spatial scale of adaptive differentiation among populations and how patterns of local adaptation might drive vulnerability to global change stressors. To test whether fine‐scale (2–12 km) mosaics of environmental stress can cause adaptive differentiation in a marine foundation species, eelgrass (Zostera marina), we conducted a three‐way reciprocal transplant experiment spanning the length of Tomales Bay, CA. Our results revealed strong home‐site advantage in growth and survival for all three populations. In subsequent common garden experiments and feeding assays, we showed that countergradients in temperature, light availability, and grazing pressure from an introduced herbivore contribute to differential performance among populations consistent with local adaptation. Our findings highlight how local‐scale mosaics in environmental stressors can increase phenotypic variation among neighboring populations, potentially increasing species resilience to future global change. More specifically, we identified a range‐center eelgrass population that is pre‐adapted to extremely warm temperatures similar to those experienced by low‐latitude range‐edge populations of eelgrass, demonstrating how reservoirs of heat‐tolerant phenotypes may already exist throughout a species range. Future work on predicting species resilience to global change should incorporate potential buffering effects of local‐scale population differentiation and promote a phenotypic management approach to species conservation.

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  4. Abstract

    Multiple disturbances can have mixed effects on biodiversity. Whether the interaction of sequential disturbances drives local extinctions or promotes diversity depends on the severity of biomass reductions relative to any stabilizing and/or equalizing effects generated by the disturbance regimes.

    Through a manipulative mesocosm experiment, we examined how warming events in the fall and simulated grazing disturbance (i.e. clipping) in the winter affected the density, biomass and genotypic diversity of assemblages of the clonal seagrassZostera marina.

    We show that the interaction of the two disturbance types reduced density and biomass to a greater degree than warming or clipping alone.

    The genotype with the highest biomass in the assemblage shifted under the different experimental regimes such that the traits of winners were distinct in the different treatments. The favouring of different traits by different disturbances led to reduced evenness when a single disturbance was applied, and enhanced evenness under multiple disturbances.

    We conclude that sequential disturbances can alter the outcome of inter‐genotypic interactions and maintain genotypic diversity in clonal populations. Our study expands the context in which disturbance can influence intraspecific diversity by showing that fluctuating selection may result from the sequential application of different disturbance types and not simply seasonal changes in a single agent.

    A freePlain Language Summarycan be found within the Supporting Information of this article.

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  5. Abstract

    Mortality and shifts in species distributions are among the most obvious consequences of extreme climatic events. However, the sublethal effects of an extreme event can have persistent impacts throughout an individual’s lifetime and into future generations via within‐generation and transgenerational phenotypic plasticity. These changes can either confer resilience or increase susceptibility to subsequent stressful events, with impacts on population, community, and potentially ecosystem processes. Here, we show how a simulated extreme warming event causes persistent changes in the morphology and growth of a foundation species (eelgrass,Zostera marina) across multiple clonal generations and multiple years. The effect of previous parental exposure to warming increased aboveground biomass, shoot length, and aboveground–belowground biomass ratios while also greatly decreasing leaf growth rates. Long‐term increases in aboveground–belowground biomass ratios could indicate an adaptive clonal transgenerational response to warmer climates that reduces the burden of increased respiration in belowground biomass. These transgenerational responses were likely decoupled from clonal parent provisioning as rhizome size of clonal offspring was standardized at planting and rhizome starch reserves were not impacted by warming treatments. Future investigations into potential epigenetic mechanisms underpinning such clonal transgenerational plasticity will be necessary to understand the resilience of asexual foundation species to repeated extreme climatic events.

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  6. Abstract Aim

    Mesophotic ecosystems, found at the limit of light penetration in the ocean, are rich in biodiversity and harbour unique ecological communities. However, they remain among the least studied habitat zones on earth due to the high costs and technological limitations. Here, we characterize mesophotic communities in two marine reserves across a range of habitat types, depths and temperatures using submersible technologies, with the goal of understanding the processes that structure these communities across biogeographical regions.


    The Bay of La Paz and the Revillagigedo Archipelago, Mexico.


    Fish and algal species.


    We used a small and inexpensive remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to conduct roving‐swim surveys of major habitat types in depths from 12 to 94 m. With the resulting binary data on the presence of fish species, we used generalized linear mixed models and canonical correspondence analysis to determine whether biogenic habitat, depth and/or temperature best explained species richness and community structure across reef and non‐reef substrate.


    We identified 72 species or genera, including new depth records for nine fish species and a new geographical record for one fish species. Our surveys included large undocumented rhodolith beds (free‐living coralline algae) and mesophotic algal communities, in addition to diverse communities of soft corals and sponges. Fish species richness was positively associated with rocky substrate and warmer water, and reef fish communities differed significantly by depth, temperature and biogenic habitat.

    Main conclusion

    Our results highlight the importance of biogenic habitat in structuring communities across gradients of depth and temperature. We also demonstrate the effectiveness of a small and economical ROV for conducting mesophotic surveys in remote regions. Our methods and results provide a framework that can be used to greatly increase the biogeographical and taxonomic scope of mesophotic research, especially for readily identifiable taxa such as fish.

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