PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] Here are two facts that make the lowly barnacle important: They are popular models for ecology research, and they are very sensitive to temperature. Given that, the authors of a new study about a bellwether community of two barnacle species in Chile figured they might see clear effects on competition between these two species if they experimentally changed temperature. In the context of climate change, such an experiment could yield profound new insights into the biological future of a major coastline that is prized for its ecological, aesthetic, and economic values.
But in the study to be printed in the April 2014 issue of the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, the scientists found no significant effect of temperature on competition at all. That surprising non-finding may have its own implications.
"The dominant if somewhat dated narrative in marine ecology, and ecology more broadly, is that competition is a major structuring force in natural communities," said co-author Heather Leslie, assistant professor of environmental studies and biology at Brown University. "We know it's a more nuanced story, but to find cases where it's a bit of a draw is really unusual."
Moreover, temperature did not turn out to be the mediating factor.
"Temperature wasn't the beast that we often think of it being, which in itself is surprising," Leslie said.
Plenty of studies of other co-occurring barnacles would have suggested otherwise. In the North Atlantic, there is a well-documented and clear dynamic between two barnacle species, the little gray barnacle (Chthamalus fragilis) and the northern rock barnacle (Semibalanus balanoides). The little gray barnacle can only survive high up on the rocks, where it is hottest and driest, because farther down it gets thoroughly routed by the northern rock barnacle. Temperature, in other words, provides the little gray's
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