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  1. Abstract

    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.

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  2. 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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  3. null (Ed.)
    Coastal salt marshes are distributed widely across the globe and are considered essential habitat for many fish and crustacean species. Yet, the literature on fishery support by salt marshes has largely been based on a few geographically distinct model systems, and as a result, inadequately captures the hierarchical nature of salt marsh pattern, process, and variation across space and time. A better understanding of geographic variation and drivers of commonalities and differences across salt marsh systems is essential to informing future management practices. Here, we address the key drivers of geographic variation in salt marshes: hydroperiod, seascape configuration, geomorphology, climatic region, sediment supply and riverine input, salinity, vegetation composition, and human activities. Future efforts to manage, conserve, and restore these habitats will require consideration of how environmental drivers within marshes affect the overall structure and subsequent function for fisheries species. We propose a future research agenda that provides both the consistent collection and reporting of sources of variation in small-scale studies and collaborative networks running parallel studies across large scales and geographically distinct locations to provide analogous information for data poor locations. These comparisons are needed to identify and prioritize restoration or conservation efforts, identify sources of variation among regions, and best manage fisheries and food resources across the globe. Introduction Understanding the drivers of geographic variation in the condition and composition of habitats is crucial to our capacity to generalize management plans across space and time and to clarify and perhaps challenge assumptions of functional equivalence among sites. Broadly defined wetland types such as salt marshes are often assumed to provide similar functions throughout their global range, such as providing nursery habitat for fishery species. However, a growing body of evidence suggests substantial geographic variation in the functioning of salt marsh and other coastal ecosystems (Bradley et al. 2020; Whalen et al. 2020). Variation in ecological patterns and processes within habitat types can alter community structure and dynamics. Local-scale patterns and processes (e.g., patch [10s of meters], local [100s of meters]) can be influenced by processes that occur at larger spatial scales (e.g., regional [kms], global), thereby causing geographic differences in the function and ecosystem service delivery of a given habitat type. Salt marshes (which include vegetated platform, interconnected tidal creeks, fringing mudflats, ponds, and pools) are widely distributed (Fig. 1) and function as valuable nursery habitats by providing key resources for many estuarine species that transition to marine or aquatic habitats as adults (Beck et al. 2001; Minello et al. 2003; Sheaves et al. 2015). However, factors that underlie variability in the delivery of ecological functions are still inadequately understood. Previous studies have explored geographic variation in the function of salt marshes for fish and mobile crustaceans (“nekton”; e.g., Minello et al. 2012, Baker et al. 2013). However, field studies that compare multiple sites across a geographical gradient are typically limited in duration and scale. In addition, the explanatory variables (e.g., elevation, flooding duration, plant structure) collected by smaller scale studies are often inconsistent and therefore limit generalizations across sites. 
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  4. While considerable evidence exists of biogeographic patterns in the intensity of species interactions, the influence of these patterns on variation in community structure is less clear. Studying how the distributions of traits in communities vary along global gradients can inform how variation in interactions and other factors contribute to the process of community assembly. Using a model selection approach on measures of trait dispersion in crustaceans associated with eelgrass ( Zostera marina ) spanning 30° of latitude in two oceans, we found that dispersion strongly increased with increasing predation and decreasing latitude. Ocean and epiphyte load appeared as secondary predictors; Pacific communities were more overdispersed while Atlantic communities were more clustered, and increasing epiphytes were associated with increased clustering. By examining how species interactions and environmental filters influence community structure across biogeographic regions, we demonstrate how both latitudinal variation in species interactions and historical contingency shape these responses. Community trait distributions have implications for ecosystem stability and functioning, and integrating large-scale observations of environmental filters, species interactions and traits can help us predict how communities may respond to environmental change. 
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  5. null (Ed.)
    Abstract Climate change is altering naturally fluctuating environmental conditions in coastal and estuarine ecosystems across the globe. Departures from long-term averages and ranges of environmental variables are increasingly being observed as directional changes [e.g., rising sea levels, sea surface temperatures (SST)] and less predictable periodic cycles (e.g., Atlantic or Pacific decadal oscillations) and extremes (e.g., coastal flooding, marine heatwaves). Quantifying the short- and long-term impacts of climate change on tidal marsh seascape structure and function for nekton is a critical step toward fisheries conservation and management. The multiple stressor framework provides a promising approach for advancing integrative, cross-disciplinary research on tidal marshes and food web dynamics. It can be used to quantify climate change effects on and interactions between coastal oceans (e.g., SST, ocean currents, waves) and watersheds (e.g., precipitation, river flows), tidal marsh geomorphology (e.g., vegetation structure, elevation capital, sedimentation), and estuarine and coastal nekton (e.g., species distributions, life history adaptations, predator-prey dynamics). However, disentangling the cumulative impacts of multiple interacting stressors on tidal marshes, whether the effects are additive, synergistic, or antagonistic, and the time scales at which they occur, poses a significant research challenge. This perspective highlights the key physical and ecological processes affecting tidal marshes, with an emphasis on the trophic linkages between marsh production and estuarine and coastal nekton, recommended for consideration in future climate change studies. Such studies are urgently needed to understand climate change effects on tidal marshes now and into the future. 
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  6. Abstract

    Calls for using marine protected areas (MPAs) to achieve goals for nature and people are increasing globally. While the conservation and fisheries impacts of MPAs have been comparatively well‐studied, impacts on other dimensions of human use have received less attention. Understanding how humans engage with MPAs and identifying traits of MPAs that promote engagement is critical to designing MPA networks that achieve multiple goals effectively, equitably and with minimal environmental impact.

    In this paper, we characterize human engagement in California's MPA network, the world's largest MPA network scientifically designed to function as a coherent network (124 MPAs spanning 16% of state waters and 1300 km of coastline) and identify traits associated with higher human engagement. We assemble and compare diverse indicators of human engagement that capture recreational, educational and scientific activities across California's MPAs.

    We find that human engagement is correlated with nearby population density and that site “charisma” can expand human engagement beyond what would be predicted based on population density alone. Charismatic MPAs tend to be located near tourist destinations, have long sandy beaches and be adjacent to state parks and associated amenities. In contrast, underutilized MPAs were often more remote and lacked both sandy beaches and parking lot access.

    Synthesis and applications: These results suggest that achieving MPA goals associated with human engagement can be promoted by developing land‐based amenities that increase access to coastal MPAs or by locating new MPAs near existing amenities during the design phase. Alternatively, human engagement can be limited by locating MPAs in areas far from population centres, coastal amenities or sandy beaches. Furthermore, managers may want to prioritize monitoring, enforcement, education and outreach programmes in MPAs with traits that predict high human engagement. Understanding the extent to which human engagement impacts the conservation performance of MPAs is a critical next step to designing MPAs that minimize tradeoffs among potentially competing objectives.

    Read the freePlain Language Summaryfor this article on the Journal blog.

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  7. Abstract

    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.

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  8. Abstract

    Over heterogeneous landscapes, organisms and energy move across ecological boundaries and this can have profound effects on overall ecosystem functioning. Both abiotic and biotic factors along habitat boundaries may facilitate or impede key species interactions that drive these energy flows—especially along the land–sea interface. We synthesized the literature detailing estuarine fish diets and habitat characteristics of salt marshes from U.S. East and Gulf coasts to determine patterns and drivers of cross‐boundary trophic transfers at the land–sea interface. Notably, marsh‐platform species (i.e., killifishes, fiddler crabs) appear virtually absent in the diets of transient estuarine fishes in the Gulf of Mexico, while along the South Atlantic and Mid‐Atlantic Bights, marsh‐platform species appear regularly in the diets of many transient estuarine fishes. Tidal amplitude varied across these three biogeographic regions and likely regulates the availability of marsh‐platform species to transient estuarine fishes via both access to the marsh surface for marine predators and emergence of marsh‐resident prey into the adjacent estuary (i.e., higher tidal amplitude increases predator–prey encounter rates). Surprisingly, marsh shoot density was positively correlated with the presence of marsh‐platform species in the diet, but this pattern appears to be mediated by increased tidal amplitude, suggesting the mode and periodicity of abiotic cycles drive diet structure of transient estuarine fishes more so than local habitat structural complexity. Subsequently, these processes likely influence the degree to which “trophic relay” moves energy from the marsh toward the open estuary. Understanding the dynamics that determine energy flows, spatial subsidies, and ultimately, ecosystem‐level productivity, is essential for implementation of holistic ecosystem‐based approaches to conserve and manage complex landscape mosaics.

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