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  1. Anthropogenic climate change is expected to increase the aridity of many regions of the world. Surface water ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to changes in the water-cycle and may suffer adverse impacts in affected regions. To enhance our understanding of how freshwater communities will respond to predicted shifts in water-cycle dynamics, we employed a space for time approach along a natural precipitation gradient on the Texas Coastal Prairie. In the spring of 2017, we conducted surveys of 10 USGS-gauged, wadeable streams spanning a semi-arid to sub-humid rainfall gradient; we measured nutrients, water chemistry, habitat characteristics, benthic macroinvertebrates, and fish communities. Fish diversity correlated positively with precipitation and was negatively correlated with conductivity. Macroinvertebrate diversity peaked within the middle of the gradient. Semi-arid fish and invertebrate communities were dominated by euryhaline and live-bearing taxa. Sub-humid communities contained environmentally sensitive trichopterans and ephemeropterans as well as a variety of predatory fish which may impose top-down controls on primary consumers. These results warn that aridification coincides with the loss of competitive and environmentally sensitive taxa which could yield less desirable community states. 
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  2. The organic carbon (Corg) stored in seagrass meadows is globally significant and could be relevant in strategies to mitigate increasing CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. Most of that stored Corg is in the soils that underlie the seagrasses. We explored how seagrass and soil characteristics vary among seagrass meadows across the geographic range of turtlegrass (Thalassia testudinum) with a goal of illuminating the processes controlling soil organic carbon (Corg) storage spanning 23° of latitude. Seagrass abundance (percent cover, biomass, and canopy height) varied by over an order of magnitude across sites, and we found high variability in soil characteristics, with Corg ranging from 0.08 to 12.59% dry weight. Seagrass abundance was a good predictor of the Corg stocks in surficial soils, and the relative importance of seagrass-derived soil Corg increased as abundance increased. These relationships suggest that first-order estimates of surficial soil Corg stocks can be made by measuring seagrass abundance and applying a linear transfer function. The relative availability of the nutrients N and P to support plant growth was also correlated with soil Corg stocks. Stocks were lower at N-limited sites than at P-limited ones, but the importance of seagrass-derived organic matter to soil Corg stocks was not a function of nutrient limitation status. This finding seemed at odds with our observation that labile standard substrates decomposed more slowly at N-limited than at P-limited sites, since even though decomposition rates were 55% lower at N-limited sites, less Corg was accumulating in the soils. The dependence of Corg stocks and decomposition rates on nutrient availability suggests that eutrophication is likely to exert a strong influence on carbon storage in seagrass meadows. 
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  3. Coastal ecosystems display consistent patterns of trade-offs between resistance and resilience to tropical cyclones. 
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  4. Abstract

    A tenet of ecology is that temporal variability in ecological structure and processes tends to decrease with increasing spatial scales (from locales to regions) and levels of biological organization (from populations to communities). However, patterns in temporal variability across trophic levels and the mechanisms that produce them remain poorly understood. Here we analyzed the abundance time series of spatially structured communities (i.e., metacommunities) spanning basal resources to top predators from 355 freshwater sites across three continents. Specifically, we used a hierarchical partitioning method to disentangle the propagation of temporal variability in abundance across spatial scales and trophic levels. We then used structural equation modeling to determine if the strength and direction of relationships between temporal variability, synchrony, biodiversity, and environmental and spatial settings depended on trophic level and spatial scale. We found that temporal variability in abundance decreased from producers to tertiary consumers but did so mainly at the local scale. Species population synchrony within sites increased with trophic level, whereas synchrony among communities decreased. At the local scale, temporal variability in precipitation and species diversity were associated with population variability (linear partial coefficient, β = 0.23) and population synchrony (β = −0.39) similarly across trophic levels, respectively. At the regional scale, community synchrony was not related to climatic or spatial predictors, but the strength of relationships between metacommunity variability and community synchrony decreased systematically from top predators (β = 0.73) to secondary consumers (β = 0.54), to primary consumers (β = 0.30) to producers (β = 0). Our results suggest that mobile predators may often stabilize metacommunities by buffering variability that originates at the base of food webs. This finding illustrates that the trophic structure of metacommunities, which integrates variation in organismal body size and its correlates, should be considered when investigating ecological stability in natural systems. More broadly, our work advances the notion that temporal stability is an emergent property of ecosystems that may be threatened in complex ways by biodiversity loss and habitat fragmentation.

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  5. Abstract

    River managers strive to use the best available science to sustain biodiversity and ecosystem function. To achieve this goal requires consideration of processes at different scales. Metacommunity theory describes how multiple species from different communities potentially interact with local‐scale environmental drivers to influence population dynamics and community structure. However, this body of knowledge has only rarely been used to inform management practices for river ecosystems. In this article, we present a conceptual model outlining how the metacommunity processes of local niche sorting and dispersal can influence the outcomes of management interventions and provide a series of specific recommendations for applying these ideas as well as research needs. In all cases, we identify situations where traditional approaches to riverine management could be enhanced by incorporating an understanding of metacommunity dynamics. A common theme is developing guidelines for assessing the metacommunity context of a site or region, evaluating how that context may affect the desired outcome, and incorporating that understanding into the planning process and methods used. To maximize the effectiveness of management activities, scientists, and resource managers should update the toolbox of approaches to riverine management to reflect theoretical advances in metacommunity ecology.

    This article is categorized under:

    Water and Life > Nature of Freshwater Ecosystems

    Water and Life > Conservation, Management, and Awareness

    Water and Life > Methods

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  6. Abstract Tropical cyclones play an increasingly important role in shaping ecosystems. Understanding and generalizing their responses is challenging because of meteorological variability among storms and its interaction with ecosystems. We present a research framework designed to compare tropical cyclone effects within and across ecosystems that: a) uses a disaggregating approach that measures the responses of individual ecosystem components, b) links the response of ecosystem components at fine temporal scales to meteorology and antecedent conditions, and c) examines responses of ecosystem using a resistance–resilience perspective by quantifying the magnitude of change and recovery time. We demonstrate the utility of the framework using three examples of ecosystem response: gross primary productivity, stream biogeochemical export, and organismal abundances. Finally, we present the case for a network of sentinel sites with consistent monitoring to measure and compare ecosystem responses to cyclones across the United States, which could help improve coastal ecosystem resilience. 
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