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Predicting the effects of marine climate change on the invertebrate prey of the birds of rocky shores

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By the end of the 21st century models of climate change predict that the air temperature over most of the British Isles will increase by between 2 and 3 °C and sea-level will rise by 40–50 cm. Over that period it will become windier and mean wave height will increase, as will the frequency of storms. These changes in climate and weather will impact the intertidal zone of the UK and will cause distribution changes in many of the common invertebrate species that live there. Where these changes are severe they may well impact on patterns of distribution of ducks and wading birds. In the British Isles a number of organisms live close to their geographical limits of distribution. Some of these species might be expected to extend their range as climatic restraints are relaxed. Species currently limited by cool summers or winter cold will move northwards. In most cases the effects on the distribution of waterbirds will be small. For example, the replacement of the Northern Limpet Patella vulgata by the Southern Limpet P. depressa is unlikely to adversely affect Eurasian Oystercatchers Haematopus ostralegus. Of wider concern is the possibility that as climate warms the abundance and productivity of brown algae will decrease. This is likely to have two significant effects for waders. First, it would represent a loss of potentially rich feeding grounds for species such as Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres that feed on small easily desiccated invertebrates living on or below the seaweed. Secondly, as algae die or are broken away the resulting debris is exported to sediment habitats where it considerably boosts the in situ production of bacteria at the base of the food web. An increase in sea-level will only have a major impact on the extent of rocky shore invertebrate communities where shore topography prevents the upward migration of the biota. Where a seawall limits shores, for example, biological production will be curtailed as the area available for colonization decreases. Increases in the size of waves and the frequency of storms will mimic increasing exposure and there will be a significant reduction in algal production in areas that are affected.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: MarClim Project, Marine Biological Association UK, Citadel Hill, Plymouth PL1 2PB, UK

Publication date: September 1, 2004


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