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  1. Bugnot, Ana Barbara (Ed.)

    Major storms can alter coastal ecosystems in several direct and indirect ways including habitat destruction, stormwater-related water quality degradation, and organism mortality. From 2010–2020, ten tropical cyclones impacted coastal North Carolina, providing an opportunity to explore ecosystem responses across multiple storms. Using monthly trawl and contemporaneous seagrass surveys conducted in Back Sound, NC, we evaluated how cyclones may affect the nursery role of shallow-water biogenic habitats by examining seagrass-associated fish responses within a temperate-subtropical estuary. We employed a general before-after-control-impact approach using trawls conducted prior (before) and subsequent (after) to storm arrival and years either without (control) or with (impact) storms. We examined whether effects were apparent over short (within ~three weeks of impact) and seasonal (May-October) timescales, as well as if the magnitude of storm-related shifts varied as a function of storm intensity. Our findings suggest that the ability of these shallow-water habitats to support juvenile fishes was not dramatically altered by hurricanes. The resilience exhibited by fishes was likely underpinned by the relative persistence of the seagrass habitat, which appeared principally undamaged by storms based upon review of available–albeit limited seagrass surveys. Increasing cyclone intensity, however, was correlated with greater declines in catch and may potentially underlie the emigration and return rate of fish after cyclones. Whether estuarine fishes will continue to be resilient to acute storm impacts despite chronic environmental degradation and predicted increases major tropical cyclone frequency and intensity remains a pressing question.

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  2. Abstract

    Foundation species, such as mangroves, saltmarshes, kelps, seagrasses, and oysters, thrive within suitable environmental envelopes as narrow ribbons along the land–sea margin. Therefore, these habitat‐forming species and resident fauna are sensitive to modified environmental gradients. For oysters, many estuaries impacted by sea‐level rise, channelization, and municipal infrastructure are experiencing saltwater intrusion and water‐quality degradation that may alter reef distributions, functions, and services. To explore decadal‐scale oyster–reef community patterns across a temperate estuary in response to environmental change, we resampled reefs in the Newport River Estuary (NRE) during 2013–2015 that had previously been studied during 1955–1956. We also coalesced historical NRE reef distribution (1880s–2015), salinity (1913–2015), and water‐quality‐driven shellfish closure boundary (1970s–2015) data to document environmental trends that could influence reef ecology and service delivery. Over the last 60–120 years, the entire NRE has shifted toward higher salinities. Consequently, oyster–reef communities have become less distinct across the estuary, manifest by 20%–27% lower species turnover and decreased faunal richness among NRE reefs in the 2010s relative to the 1950s. During the 2010s, NRE oyster–reef communities tended to cluster around a euhaline, intertidal‐reef type more so than during the 1950s. This followed faunal expansions farther up estuary and biological degradation of subtidal reefs as NRE conditions became more marine and favorable for aggressive, reef‐destroying taxa. In addition to these biological shifts, the area of suitable bottom on which subtidal reefs persist (contracting due to up‐estuary intrusion of marine waters) and support human harvest (driven by water quality, eroding from up‐estuary) has decreased by >75% since the natural history of NRE reefs was first explored. This “coastal squeeze” on harvestable subtidal oysters (reduced from a 4.5‐km to a 0.75‐km envelope along the NRE's main axis) will likely have consequences regarding the economic incentives for future oyster conservation, as well as the suite of services delivered by remaining shellfish reefs (e.g., biodiversity maintenance, seafood supply). More broadly, these findings exemplify how “squeeze” may be a pervasive concern for biogenic habitats along terrestrial or marine ecotones during an era of intense global change.

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  3. Abstract

    The 2010Deepwater Horizon(DwH) disaster challenged the integrity of the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) large‐marine ecosystem at unprecedented scales, prompting concerns of devastating injury for GOM fisheries in the post‐spill decade. Following the catastrophe, projected economic losses for regional commercial, recreational, and mariculture sectors for the decade after oiling were US$3.7–8.7 billion overall, owing to the vulnerability of economically prized, primarily nearshore taxa that support fishing communities. State and federal fisheries data during 2000–2017 indicated that GOM fishery sectors appeared to serve as remarkable anchors of resilience following the largest accidental marine oil spill in human history. Evidence of post‐disaster impacts on fisheries economies was negligible. Rather, GOM commercial sales during 2010–2017 were US$0.8–1.5 billion above forecasts derived using pre‐spill (2000–2009) trajectories, while pre‐ and post‐spill recreational fishery trends did not differ appreciably. No post‐spill shifts in target species or effort distribution across states were apparent to explain these findings. Unraveling the mechanisms for this unforeseen stability represents an important avenue for understanding the vulnerability or resilience of human–natural systems to future disturbances. FollowingDwH, the causes for fishery responses are likely multifaceted and complex (including exogenous economic forces that typically affect fisheries‐dependent data), but appear partially explained by the relative ecological stability of coastal fishery assemblages despite widespread oiling, which has been corroborated by multiple fishery‐independent surveys across the northern GOM. Additionally, we hypothesize that damage payments to fishermen led to acquisition or retooling of commercial fisheries infrastructure, and subsequent rises in harvest effort. Combined, these social–ecological dynamics likely aided recovery of stressed coastal GOM communities in the years afterDwH, although increased fishing pressure in the post‐spill era may have consequences for future GOM ecosystem structure, function, and resilience.

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  4. Abstract

    Examining community responses to habitat configuration across scales informs basic and applied models of ecosystem function. Responses to patch‐scale edge effects (i.e., ecological differences between patch edges and interiors) are hypothesized to underpin the effects of landscape‐scale fragmentation (i.e., mosaics of multipatch habitat and matrix). Conceptually, this appears justifiable because fragmented habitats typically have a greater proportion of edge than continuous habitats. To critically inspect whether patch‐scale edge effects translate consistently (i.e., scale up) into patterns observed in fragmented landscapes, we conducted a meta‐analysis on community relationships in seagrass ecosystems to synthesize evidence of edge and fragmentation effects on shoot density, faunal densities, and predation rates. We determined effect sizes by calculating log response ratios for responses within patch edges versus interiors to quantify edge effects, and fragmented versus continuous landscapes to quantify fragmentation effects. We found that both edge and fragmentation effects reduced seagrass shoot densities, although the effect of edge was statistically stronger. By contrast, fauna often exhibited higher densities in patch edges, while fragmentation responses varied directionally across taxa. Fish densities trended higher in patch edges and fragmented landscapes. Benthic fishes responded more positively than benthopelagic fishes to edge effects, although neither guild strongly responded to fragmentation. Invertebrate densities increased in patch edges and trended lower in fragmented landscapes; however, these were small effect sizes due to the offsetting responses of two dominant epifaunal guilds: decapods and smaller crustaceans. Edge and fragmentation affected predation similarly, with prey survival trending lower in patch edges and fragmented landscapes. Overall, several similarities suggested that edge effects conform with patterns of community dynamics in fragmented seagrass. However, across all metrics except fish densities, variability in fragmentation effects was twice that of edge effects. Variance patterns combined with generally stronger responses to edge than fragmentation, warrant caution in unilaterally “scaling‐up” edge effects to describe fragmentation effects. Alternatively, fragmentation includes additional factors (e.g., matrix effects, patch number, mean patch size, isolation) that may enhance or offset edge effects. Fragmentation and increased edge are syndromes of habitat degradation, therefore this analysis informs mechanistic models of community change in altered terrestrial and marine systems.

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  5. Distribution of Earth’s biomes is structured by the match between climate and plant traits, which in turn shape associated communities and ecosystem processes and services. However, that climate–trait match can be disrupted by historical events, with lasting ecosystem impacts. As Earth’s environment changes faster than at any time in human history, critical questions are whether and how organismal traits and ecosystems can adjust to altered conditions. We quantified the relative importance of current environmental forcing versus evolutionary history in shaping the growth form (stature and biomass) and associated community of eelgrass ( Zostera marina ), a widespread foundation plant of marine ecosystems along Northern Hemisphere coastlines, which experienced major shifts in distribution and genetic composition during the Pleistocene. We found that eelgrass stature and biomass retain a legacy of the Pleistocene colonization of the Atlantic from the ancestral Pacific range and of more recent within-basin bottlenecks and genetic differentiation. This evolutionary legacy in turn influences the biomass of associated algae and invertebrates that fuel coastal food webs, with effects comparable to or stronger than effects of current environmental forcing. Such historical lags in phenotypic acclimatization may constrain ecosystem adjustments to rapid anthropogenic climate change, thus altering predictions about the future functioning of ecosystems. 
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