Fast-growing oysters show reduced capacity to provide a thermal refuge to intertidal biodiversity at high temperatures

Dominic McAfee*, Wayne A. O'Connor, Melanie J. Bishop

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    37 Citations (Scopus)


    Ecosystem engineers that modify the thermal environment experienced by associated organisms might assist in the climate change adaptation of species. This depends on the ability of ecosystem engineers to persist and continue to ameliorate thermal stress under changing climatic conditions—traits that may display significant intraspecific variation. In the physically stressful intertidal, the complex three-dimensional structure of oysters provides shading and traps moisture during aerial exposure at low tide. We assessed variation in the capacity of a faster- and slower-growing population of the Sydney Rock Oyster, Saccostrea glomerata, to persist, form three-dimensional structure and provide a cool microhabitat to invertebrates under warmer conditions. The two populations of oysters were exposed to a temperature gradient in the field by attaching them to passively warmed white, grey and black stone pavers and their growth, survivorship and colonisation by invertebrates was monitored over a 12-month period. Oysters displayed a trade-off between fast growth and thermal tolerance. The growth advantage of the fast-growing population diminished with increasing substrate temperature, and at higher temperatures, the faster-growing oysters suffered greater mortality, formed less habitat, and were consequently less effective at ameliorating low-tide air temperature extremes than slower-growing oysters. The greater survivorship of slower-growing oysters, in turn, produced a cooler microclimate which fed back to further bolster oyster survivorship. Invertebrate recruitment increased with habitat cover and was greater among the slower than the faster-growing population. Our results show that the capacity of ecosystem engineers to serve as microhabitat refugia to associated organisms in a warming climate displays marked intraspecific variation. Our study also adds to growing evidence that fast growth may come at the expense of thermal tolerance.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1352-1362
    Number of pages11
    JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - Nov 2017


    • climate change adaptation
    • density dependence
    • ecosystem engineer
    • facilitation
    • refugia
    • stressor
    • temperature
    • trade-off


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