Climate-related change in an intertidal community over short and long time scales

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Sagarin, Raphael D., Barry, James P., Gilman, Sarah E., Baxter, Charles H.
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Changes in the abundance of macroinvertebrate species documented in a rocky intertidal community between surveys in 1931–1933 and 1993–1996 are consistent with the predicted effects of recent climate warming. We resampled 57 0.84-m2 plots of an intertidal transect first surveyed by W. G. Hewatt at Hopkins Marine Station (HMS), Pacific Grove, California, between 1931 and 1933. Replicating precisely the location of the plots and methodology used by Hewatt, we documented changes in the abundances of 46 invertebrate species, indicating that this intertidal community changed significantly during the 60 yr between surveys. Changes in abundance were related to geographic ranges of species. Most southern species (10 of 11) increased in abundance, whereas most northern species (5 of 7) decreased. Cosmopolitan species showed no clear trend, with 12 increasing and 16 decreasing. Although Hewatt did not record algal species as thoroughly as invertebrates, we were able to document a massive decline in cover of Pelvetia compressa, a cosmopolitan fucoid alga that is typically more common in the southern part of its range. Shoreline ocean temperature, taken daily at HMS, warmed by 0.79°C during this 60-yr period, with average summer temperatures up to 1.94°C warmer in the 13 yr preceding our study than in the 13 yr preceding Hewatt’s. The hypothesis that climatic warming drove the observed range-related community shifts is supported further by historical records and data from other investigators. Several alternative hypotheses to explain changes in the invertebrate community at HMS, including habitat changes, anthropogenic effects, indirect biological interactions, El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events, and upwelling are considered to be less important than climate change. Changes in species’ abundances over a short period (3 yr) were relatively small compared to large species shifts over 60 yr and were unrelated to geographic range of the species, indicating that short-term population fluctuations play a relatively minor role in the long-term community changes that we observed.


Sagarin, R. D., J. P. Barry, S. E. Gilman, and C. H. Baxter. 1999. Climate-related change in an intertidal community over short and long time scales. Ecological Monographs 69:465–490.