Simultaneous exposure to a pulsed and a prolonged anthropogenic stressor can alter consumer multifunctionality

13 April 2018

Salo, Tiina; Rasanen, Katja; Stamm, Christian; Burdon, Francis; Seppala, Otto

Ecosystems face multiple anthropogenic threats globally, and the effects of these environmental stressors range from individual-level organismal responses to altered system functioning. Understanding the combined effects of stressors on process rates mediated by individuals in ecosystems would greatly improve our ability to predict organismal multifunctionality (e.g. multiple consumer-mediated functions). We conducted a laboratory experiment to test direct and indirect, as well as immediate and delayed effects of a heat wave (pulsed stress) and micropollutants (MPs) (prolonged stress) on individual consumers (the great pond snail Lymnaea stagnalis) and their multifunctionality (i.e. consumption of basal resources, growth, reproduction, nutrient excretion and organic-matter cycling). We found that stressful conditions increased the process rates of multiple functions mediated by individual consumers. Specifically, the artificial heat wave increased process rates in the majority of the quantified functions (either directly or indirectly), whereas exposure to MPs increased consumption of basal resources which lead to increases in the release of nutrients and fine particulate organic matter. Moreover, snails exposed to a heat wave showed decreased reproduction and nutrient excretion after the heat-wave, indicating the potential for ecologically relevant delayed effects. Our study indicates that the immediate and delayed effects of stressors on individual organisms may directly and indirectly impact multiple ecosystem functions. In particular, delayed effects of environmental stress on individual consumers may cumulatively impede recovery due to decreased functioning following a perturbation. Reconciling these results with studies incorporating responses at higher levels of biological complexity will enhance our ability to forecast how individual responses upscale to ecosystem multifunctionality.