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How does climate change affect emergent properties of aquatic ecosystems?

April 8, 2021

Emergent properties of ecosystems are community attributes, such as structure and function, that arise from connections and interactions (e.g., predator–prey, competition) among populations, species, or assemblages that, when viewed together, provide a holistic representation that is more than the sum of its individual parts. Climate change is altering emergent properties of aquatic ecosystems through component responses, a combination of shifts in species range, phenology, distribution, and productivity, which lead to novel ecosystems that have no historical analog. The reshuffling, restructuring, and rewiring of aquatic ecosystems due to climate impacts are of high concern for natural resource management and conservation as these changes can lead to species extinctions and reductions in ecosystem services. Overall, we found that substantial progress has been made to advance our understanding of how climate change is affecting emergent properties of aquatic ecosystems. However, responses are incredibly complex, and high uncertainty remains for how systems will reorganize and function over the coming decades. This cross‐system perspective summarizes the state of knowledge of climate‐driven emergent properties in aquatic habitats with case studies that highlight mechanisms of change, observed or anticipated outcomes, as well as insights into confounding non‐climate effects, research tools, and management approaches to advance the field.