Climate change transforms the functional identity of Mediterranean coralligenous assemblages

Daniel Gómez-Gras*, Cristina Linares, Maria Dornelas, Joshua S. Madin, Viviana Brambilla, Jean-Baptiste Ledoux, Paula López-Sendino, Nathaniel Bensoussan, Joaquim Garrabou

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Quantifying changes in functional community structure driven by disturbance is critical to anticipate potential shifts in ecosystem functioning. However, how marine heatwaves (MHWs) affect the functional structure of temperate coral-dominated communities is poorly understood. Here, we used five long-term (> 10 years) records of Mediterranean coralligenous assemblages in a multi-taxa, trait-based analysis to investigate MHW-driven changes in functional structure. We show that, despite stability in functional richness (i.e. the range of species functional traits), MHW-impacted assemblages experienced long-term directional changes in functional identity (i.e. their dominant trait values). Declining traits included large sizes, long lifespans, arborescent morphologies, filter-feeding strategies or calcified skeletons. These traits, which were mostly supported by few sensitive and irreplaceable species from a single functional group (habitat-forming octocorals), disproportionally influence certain ecosystem functions (e.g. 3D-habitat provision). Hence, MHWs are leading to assemblages that are deficient in key functional traits, with likely consequences for the ecosystem functioning.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1038-1051
Number of pages14
JournalEcology Letters
Issue number5
Early online date16 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - May 2021


  • Community structure
  • Disturbance
  • Functional change
  • Functional diversity
  • Functional ecology
  • Reefs
  • Stability
  • Temperate
  • Warming


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