About this Research Topic
This Topic calls for studies addressing whether environmental variability acts as a buffer or amplifier of the effects of climate change on marine ecosystems.
Marine environments, particularly coastal and shallow-water habitats, often experience strong fluctuations of biotic and abiotic drivers at temporal scales of hours to weeks. These can arise from biological activity, irradiance variation, tides, weather-driven changes in water level, waves, temperature, and up- or downwelling events. These natural short-term (hours to weeks) fluctuations can amplify (adding stress to the system), or buffer (enabling recovery) environmentally-induced stress, and thereby can strongly modulate the impacts of climate change on organism physiology and ecosystem resilience.
Results obtained from the many studies that have tested the effects of constant environmental conditions can be of limited relevance to the real world where fluctuations are common. Of the >1500 articles that have tested the biological effects of (constant levels of) ocean acidification <25 have investigated the effects of pH fluctuations, highlighting the need for more detailed assessments. The few available studies on the effects of pH or thermal variability demonstrate widely varying responses that differ from those in constant conditions. Recently, theoretical frameworks have been used to predict the effects of fluctuations from (e.g.) thermal performance curves established under constant experimental treatments, as well as how variation in thermal environments alters organismal thermal preferences. These predictions have rarely been tested against empirical observations, and the mechanisms underlying responses are unclear.
Here, we call for the latest experimental and theoretical research investigating the effects of fluctuating environmental drivers on marine organisms and ecosystems. Preferably, drivers shall be applied along a species’ performance gradient, i.e. from optimal to moderate and stressful environmental conditions (e.g. outside a species thermal (etc.) optimum). Focal drivers should be environmental parameters with ecosystem-wide impacts such as temperature, pH, salinity, or oxygen and/or biological drivers such as food availability and/or quality; this list, however, is not exclusive. Investigations of the interplay of multiple fluctuating environmental drivers are welcome and timely. Further, experiments testing whether performance curves are adaptive in the short- (via phenotypic plasticity) or the long-run (by evolution) would be highly valuable.
This Topic is clearly different from purely observational approaches looking e.g. into the impacts of extreme events such as marine heatwaves on marine communities, and topics focussing on purely behavioral mechanisms in response to environmental heterogeneity.
This Topic stresses the need to integrate variability into eco-physiological approaches focusing on functional traits, for understanding ecological and evolutionary changes driven by a changing ocean.
Keywords: environmental variability, fluctuating environmental drivers, climate change, organism physiology, ecosystem resilience
Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.