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Multiple stressors and multifunctionality: limited effects on an illuminated benthic system

Journal article
Authors Christian Alsterberg
Kristina Sundbäck
Lars Gamfeldt
Published in Biology Letters
Volume 10
Issue 12
ISSN 1744-9561
Publication year 2014
Published at Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences
Language en
Keywords multiple stressors, multifunctinality, shallow-water sediment systems
Subject categories Biological Sciences, Ecology


The bulk of experiments that study stressor effects on ecosystem functioning consider only individual functions one at a time, and such narrow focus may well bias our understanding of the overall impact on ecosystem functioning. We used data from six published experiments in which marine illuminated sediment systems were exposed to nutrient enrichment, toxicants, sedimentation and warming, either alone or in combination. Measured functions were primary production, community respiration, inorganic nitrogen and phosphorus fluxes, and autotrophic biomass. We calculated two indices of multifunctionality that simultaneously considered all six functions: (i) a weighted average level of the functions and (ii) the number of functions that simultaneously exceed a critical threshold level. Stressors affected individual functions both positively and negatively, but multifunctionality was generally unaffected by both single and joint stressors. The filtering capacity of coastal illuminated sediment systems thus appears resilient to exposure to moderate levels of multiple stressors, most probably due to the robustness of the benthic microalgal community. We recommend using a multifunctionality approach in future studies on cumulative stressor effects on ecosystem functioning, particularly when considering functions related to ecosystem services.

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