Uncovering the volatile nature of tropical coastal marine ecosystems in a changing world

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Journal Article
Global Change Biology, 2015, 21 (4), pp. 1383 - 1394
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© 2014 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Biogenic volatile organic compounds (BVOCs), in particular dimethyl sulphide (DMS) and isoprene, have fundamental ecological, physiological and climatic roles. Our current understanding of these roles is almost exclusively established from terrestrial or oceanic environments but signifies a potentially major, but largely unknown, role for BVOCs in tropical coastal marine ecosystems. The tropical coast is a transition zone between the land and ocean, characterized by highly productive and biodiverse coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangroves, which house primary producers that are amongst the greatest emitters of BVOCs on the planet. Here, we synthesize our existing understanding of BVOC emissions to produce a novel conceptual framework of the tropical marine coast as a continuum from DMS-dominated reef producers to isoprene-dominated mangroves. We use existing and previously unpublished data to consider how current environmental conditions shape BVOC production across the tropical coastal continuum, and in turn how BVOCs can regulate environmental stress tolerance or species interactions via infochemical networks. We use this as a framework to discuss how existing predictions of future tropical coastal BVOC emissions, and the roles they play, are effectively restricted to present day 'baseline' trends of BVOC production across species and environmental conditions; as such, there remains a critical need to focus research efforts on BVOC responses to rapidly accelerating anthropogenic impacts at local and regional scales. We highlight the complete lack of current knowledge required to understand the future ecological functioning of these important systems, and to predict whether feedback mechanisms are likely to regulate or exacerbate current climate change scenarios through environmentally and ecologically mediated changes to BVOC budgets at the ecosystem level.
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