Warming intensifies the interaction between the temperate seagrass Posidoniaoceanica and its dominant fish herbivore Sarpa salpa

Buñuel, XavierAlcoverro, Teresa Romero, JavierArthur, Rohan Ruiz, Juan M.Pérez, MartaOntoria, Y.Raventós, NúriaMacpherson, Enrique Torrado, HèctorPagès, Jordi F. Marine Environmental Research : 105237. doi:10.1016/j.marenvres.2020.105237 (2020)  DIGITAL CSIC

Apart from directly influencing individual life histories of species, climate change is altering key biotic interactions as well, causing community processes to unravel. With rising temperatures, disruptions to producer-consumer relationships can have major knock-on effects, particularly when the producer is a habitat-forming species. We studied how sea surface temperature (SST) modifies multiple pathways influencing the interaction between the foundational seagrass species, Posidonia oceanica, and its main consumer, the fish Sarpa salpa in the Mediterranean Sea. We used a combination of a field-based temperature gradient approaches and experimental manipulations to assess the effect of temperature on seagrass performance (growth) and fish early life history (larval development) as well as on the interaction itself (seagrass palatability and fish foraging activity). Within the range of temperatures assessed, S. salpa larvae grew slightly faster at warmer conditions but maintained their settlement size, resulting in a relatively small reduction in pelagic larval duration (PLD) and potentially reducing dispersion. Under warmer conditions (>24 ºC), P. oceanica reduced its growth rate considerably and seemed to display fewer deterring mechanisms as indicated by a disproportionate consumption in choice experiments. However, our field-based observations along the temperature gradient showed no change in fish foraging time, or in other aspects of feeding behaviour. As oceans warm, our results indicate that, while S. salpa may show little change in early life history, its preference towards P. oceanica might increase, which, together with reduced seagrass growth, could considerably intensify the strength of herbivory. It is unclear if P. oceanica meadows can sustain such an intensification, but it will clearly add to the raft of pressures this threatened ecosystem already faces from global and local environmental change.