Theoretical basis for predicting climate-induced abrupt shifts in the oceans
Among the responses of marine species and their ecosystems to climate change, abrupt community shifts (ACSs), also called regime shifts, have often been observed. However, despite their effects for ecosystem functioning and both provisioning and regulating services, our understanding of the underlying mechanisms involved remains elusive. This paper proposes a theory showing that some ACSs originate from the interaction between climate-induced environmental changes and the species ecological niche. The theory predicts that a substantial stepwise shift in the thermal regime of a marine ecosystem leads indubitably to an ACS and explains why some species do not change during the phenomenon. It also explicates why the timing of ACSs may differ or why some studies may detect or not detect a shift in the same ecosystem, independently of the statistical method of detection and simply because they focus on different species or taxonomic groups. The present theory offers a way to predict future climate-induced community shifts and their potential associated trophic cascades and amplifications.