Predicting impacts of climate-induced range expansion: an experimental framework and a test involving key grazers on temperate rocky shores

Louise B. Firth, Tasman P. Crowe, Pippa Moore, Richard C. Thompson, Stephen J. Hawkins

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Climate change has strong potential to modify the structure and functioning of ecosystems, but experimental field studies into its effects are rare. On rocky shores, grazing limpets strongly affect ecosystem structure and their distribution in NW Europe is changing in response to climate change. Three limpet species co-occur in SW Britain (Patella vulgata, Patella ulyssiponensis and Patella depressa) on open rock and in pools. Shores in Ireland are similar, but currently lack P. depressa. It is anticipated that P. depressa will expand its range into Ireland as the climate warms, but we currently lack an empirical basis to predict the consequences of this change. Recent studies show that increasing abundance of P. depressa on British shores has been accompanied by a decline of P. vulgata suggesting interspecific competition. In this study, a new experimental framework was used to examine the potential for P. depressa to affect P. vulgata on Irish shores. P. vulgata was experimentally transplanted into enclosures on open rock and in pools in both Ireland and Britain. In pools, treatments also included transplanted P. ulyssiponensis to mimic natural assemblages. Growth and mortality of P. vulgata were measured over 6 months with no differences between Ireland and Britain. In Britain, P. vulgata caged in pools with transplanted P. depressa and P. ulyssiponensis showed reduced growth, compared with when caged in pools with P. ulyssiponensis alone. There was no effect of P. depressa on the growth rate of P. vulgata on open rock. Results indicate that if the range of P. depressa extends into Ireland, it would reduce the growth of P. vulgata where it co-occurs with P. ulyssiponensis in pools. The framework used here provides a field-based approach that could be used to examine the impacts of climate-induced range expansions on the structure and functioning of other ecosystems.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1413-1422
Number of pages10
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2009


  • climatic change
  • habitat-specific competition
  • limpet
  • range shift
  • rocky intertidal


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