Global impacts of marine heatwaves on coastal foundation species

Kathryn E. Smith, Margot Aubin, Michael t. Burrows, Karen Filbee-Dexter, Alistair J. Hobday, Neil J. Holbrook, Nathan G. King, Pippa J. Moore, Alex Sen Gupta, Mads Thomsen, Thomas Wernberg, Edward Wilson, Dan A. Smale

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With increasingly intense marine heatwaves affecting nearshore regions, foundation species are coming under increasing stress. To better understand their impacts, we examine responses of critical, habitat-forming foundation species (macroalgae, seagrass, corals) to marine heatwaves in 1322 shallow coastal areas located across 85 marine ecoregions. We find compelling evidence that intense, summer marine heatwaves play a significant role in the decline of foundation species globally. Critically, detrimental effects increase towards species warm-range edges and over time. We also identify several ecoregions where foundation species don’t respond to marine heatwaves, suggestive of some resilience to warming events. Cumulative marine heatwave intensity, absolute temperature, and location within a species’ range are key factors mediating impacts. Our results suggest many coastal ecosystems are losing foundation species, potentially impacting associated biodiversity, ecological function, and ecosystem services provision. Understanding relationships between marine heatwaves and foundation species offers the potential to predict impacts that are critical for developing management and adaptation approaches.
Original languageEnglish
Article number5052
Number of pages14
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jun 2024


  • Animals
  • anthozoa
  • aquatic organisms
  • biodiversity
  • climate change
  • ecosystem
  • global warming
  • hot temperature
  • seasons
  • seaweed
  • adamption
  • coastal management zone
  • coral
  • ecoregion
  • ecosystem function
  • ecosystem resilience
  • ecosystem service
  • heat wave
  • macroalga
  • population declince
  • seagrass
  • biogeographic region
  • coastal waters
  • drug toxicity
  • habitat
  • nonhuman
  • physiological stress
  • seashore
  • summer
  • aquatic species
  • greenhouse effect
  • physiology


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