Ecological memory modifies the cumulative impact of recurrent climate extremes

Hughes, Terry P., Kerry, James T., Connolly, Sean R., Baird, Andrew H., Eakin, C. Mark, Heron, Scott F., Hoey, Andrew S., Hoogenboom, Mia O., Jacobson, Mizue, Liu, Gang, Pratchett, Morgan S., Skirving, William, and Torda, Gergely (2019) Ecological memory modifies the cumulative impact of recurrent climate extremes. Nature Climate Change, 9 (1). pp. 40-44.

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Climate change is radically altering the frequency, intensity and spatial scale of severe weather events, such as heat-waves, droughts, floods and fires(1). As the time interval shrinks between recurrent shocks(2-5), the responses of ecosystems to each new disturbance are increasingly likely to be contingent on the history of other recent extreme events. Ecological memory-defined as the ability of the past to influence the present trajectory of ecosystems(6,7)-is also critically important for understanding how species assemblages are responding to rapid changes in disturbance regimes due to anthropogenic climate change(2,3,6-8). Here, we show the emergence of ecological memory during unprecedented back-to-back mass bleaching of corals along the 2,300 km length of the Great Barrier Reef in 2016, and again in 2017, whereby the impacts of the second severe heatwave, and its geographic footprint, were contingent on the first. Our results underscore the need to understand the strengthening interactions among sequences of climate-driven events, and highlight the accelerating and cumulative impacts of novel disturbance regimes on vulnerable ecosystems.

Item ID: 56814
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1758-678X
Copyright Information: © The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited 2018
Funders: ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, Australian Institute of Marine Science, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
Research Data:
Date Deposited: 09 Jan 2019 07:38
FoR Codes: 51 PHYSICAL SCIENCES > 5103 Classical physics > 510399 Classical physics not elsewhere classified @ 50%
41 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 4101 Climate change impacts and adaptation > 410102 Ecological impacts of climate change and ecological adaptation @ 50%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9603 Climate and Climate Change > 960305 Ecosystem Adaptation to Climate Change @ 50%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9605 Ecosystem Assessment and Management > 960507 Ecosystem Assessment and Management of Marine Environments @ 50%
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