A review and meta-analysis of the effects of multiple abiotic stressors on marine embryos and larvae

Marine organisms are simultaneously exposed to anthropogenic stressors with likely interactive effects, including synergisms in which the combined effects of multiple stressors are greater than the sum of individual effects. Early life stages of marine organisms are potentially vulnerable to the stressors associated with global change, but identifying general patterns across studies, species and response variables is challenging. This review represents the first meta-analysis of multistressor studies to target early marine life stages (embryo to larvae), particularly between temperature, salinity and pH as these are the best studied. Knowledge gaps in research on multiple abiotic stressors and early life stages are also identified. The meta-analysis yielded several key results: (1) Synergistic interactions (65% of individual tests) are more common than additive (17%) or antagonistic (17%) interactions. (2) Larvae are generally more vulnerable than embryos to thermal and pH stress. (3) Survival is more likely than sublethal responses to be affected by thermal, salinity and pH stress. (4) Interaction types vary among stressors, ontogenetic stages and biological responses, but they are more consistent among phyla. (5) Ocean acidification is a greater stressor for calcifying than noncalcifying larvae. Despite being more ecologically realistic than single-factor studies, multifactorial studies may still oversimplify complex systems, and so meta-analyses of the data from them must be cautiously interpreted with regard to extrapolation to field conditions. Nonetheless, our results identify taxa with early life stages that may be particularly vulnerable (e.g. molluscs, echinoderms) or robust (e.g. arthropods, cnidarians) to abiotic stress. We provide a list of recommendations for future multiple stressor studies, particularly those focussed on early marine life stages.

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