Net effects of multiple stressors in freshwater ecosystems: a meta-analysis
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The accelerating rate of global change has focused attention on the cumulative impacts of novel and extreme environmental changes (i.e. stressors), especially in marine ecosystems. As integrators of local catchment and regional processes, freshwater ecosystems are also ranked highly sensitive to the net effects of multiple stressors, yet there has not been a large-scale quantitative synthesis. We analysed data from 88 papers including 286 responses of freshwater ecosystems to paired stressors and discovered that overall, their cumulative mean effect size was less than the sum of their single effects (i.e. an antagonistic interaction). Net effects of dual stressors on diversity and functional performance response metrics were additive and antagonistic, respectively. Across individual studies, a simple vote-counting method revealed that the net effects of stressor pairs were frequently more antagonistic (41%) than synergistic (28%), additive (16%) or reversed (15%). Here, we define a reversal as occurring when the net impact of two stressors is in the opposite direction (negative or positive) from that of the sum of their single effects. While warming paired with nutrification resulted in additive net effects, the overall mean net effect of warming combined with a second stressor was antagonistic. Most importantly, the mean net effects across all stressor pairs and response metrics were consistently antagonistic or additive, contrasting the greater prevalence of reported synergies in marine systems. Here, a possible explanation for more antagonistic responses by freshwater biota to stressors is that the inherent greater environmental variability of smaller aquatic ecosystems fosters greater potential for acclimation and co-adaptation to multiple stressors.
- RESEARCH: Chimimba C