Community Responses to Climate-Related Variability and Disease: The Critical Importance of Long-Term Research


A major goal of the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO) has been to understand the impacts of climate change and variability on the coastal ecosystems of the inner shelf of the California Current Large Marine System in particular, and other marine and even nonmarine systems more generally. Insights can result from determination of impacts of climatic perturbations such as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, the North Pacific Gyre Oscillation, and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, as well as impacts of climate-related surprises on populations, communities, and ecosystems. To gain insight into warming impacts at organismal levels, we also investigated mechanistic suborganismal (physiological, molecular) responses to thermal conditions. Warmer water was connected to changes in ecological subsidies, growth of dominant space occupiers (mussels and barnacles), and heightened physiological stress impacts. Fortuitously, PISCO researchers were ideally positioned to document ecosystem vulnerability and resilience to an unprecedented ecological surprise—coast-wide collapse of keystone predator (sea star) populations—and to investigate its consequences. As these examples suggest, long-term sampling is critically important for helping society anticipate and adapt to present and future disruptions caused by global change.

Mark Novak
Mark Novak
Associate Professor