Ecologically relevant levels of multiple, common marine stressors suggest antagonistic effects

Authors: Rolanda Lange and Dustin Marshall

Published in: Scientific Reports


Stressors associated with global change will be experienced simultaneously and may act synergistically, so attempts to estimate the capacity of marine systems to cope with global change requires a multi-stressor approach.

Because recent evidence suggests that stressor effects can be context-dependent, estimates of how stressors are experienced in ecologically realistic settings will be particularly valuable.

To enhance our understanding of the interplay between environmental effects and the impact of multiple stressors from both natural and anthropogenic sources, we conducted a field experiment. We explored the impact of multiple, functionally varied stressors from both natural and anthropogenic sources experienced during early life history in a common sessile marine invertebrate, Bugula neritina.

Natural spatial environmental variation induced differences in conspecific densities, allowing us to test for density-driven context-dependence of stressor effects. We indeed found density-dependent effects. Under high conspecific density, individual survival increased, which offset part of the negative effects of experiencing stressors.

Experiencing multiple stressors early in life history translated to a decreased survival in the field, albeit the effects were not as drastic as we expected: our results are congruent with antagonistic stressor effects. We speculate that when individual stressors are more subtle, stressor synergies become less common.


Lange R, Marshall D (2017) Ecologically relevant levels of multiple, common marine stressors suggest antagonistic effects. Scientific reports, PDF 1 MB doi:10.1038/s41598-017-06373-y