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Latitudinal patterns in intertidal ecosystem structure in West Greenland suggest resilience to climate change

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Climate change has ecosystem-wide cascading effects. Little is known, however, about the resilience of Arctic marine ecosystems to environmental change. Here we quantify and compare large-scale patterns in rocky intertidal biomass, coverage and zonation in six regions along a north-south gradient of temperature and ice conditions in West Greenland (60–72°N). We related the level and variation in assemblage composition, biomass and coverage to latitudinal-scale environmental drivers. Across all latitudes, the intertidal assemblage was dominated by a core of stress-tolerant foundation species that constituted > 95% of the biomass. Hence, canopy-forming macroalgae, represented by Fucus distichus subsp. evanescens and F. vesiculosus and, up to 69°N, also Ascophyllum nodosum, together with Semibalanus balanoides, occupied > 70% of the vertical tidal range in all regions. Thus, a similar functional assemblage composition occurred across regions, and no latitudinal depression was observed. The most conspicuous difference in species composition from south to north was that three common species (the macroalgae Ascophyllum nodosum, the amphipod Gammarus setosus and the gastropod Littorina obtusata) disappeared from the mid-intertidal, although at different latitudes. There were no significant relationships between assemblage metrics and air temperature or sea ice coverage as obtained from weather stations and satellites, respectively. Although the mean biomass decreased > 50% from south to north, local biomass in excess of 10 000 g ww m −2 was found even at the northernmost site, demonstrating the patchiness of this habitat and the effect of small-scale variation in environmental characteristics. Hence, using the latitudinal gradient in a space-for-time substitution, our results suggest that while climate modification may lead to an overall increase in the intertidal biomass in north Greenland, it is unlikely to drive dramatic functional changes in ecosystem structure in the near future. Our dataset provides an important baseline for future studies to verify these predictions for Greenland's intertidal zone.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEcography
Volume44
Issue8
Pages (from-to)1156-1168
Number of pages13
ISSN0906-7590
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2021

    Research areas

  • Arctic, benthos, biogeography, climate change, range shifts, space-for-time, SEA-ICE COVER, COMMUNITY COMPOSITION, FREEZING TOLERANCE, MYTILUS-EDULIS, ARCTIC FJORD, BLUE MUSSELS, SHIFTS, ZONE, TEMPERATURE, PERFORMANCE

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