Heat waves have profoundly impacted biota globally over the past decade, especially where their ecological impacts are rapid, diverse, and broad-scale. Although usually considered in isolation for either terrestrial or marine ecosystems, heat waves can straddle ecosystems of both types at subcontinental scales, potentially impacting larger areas and taxonomic breadth than previously envisioned. Using climatic and multi-species demographic data collected in Western Australia, we show that a massive heat wave event straddling terrestrial and maritime ecosystems triggered abrupt, synchronous, and multi-trophic ecological disruptions, including mortality, demographic shifts and altered species distributions. Tree die-off and coral bleaching occurred concurrently in response to the heat wave, and were accompanied by terrestrial plant mortality, seagrass and kelp loss, population crash of an endangered terrestrial bird species, plummeting breeding success in marine penguins, and outbreaks of terrestrial wood-boring insects. These multiple taxa and trophic-level impacts spanned >300,000 km2—comparable to the size of California—encompassing one terrestrial Global Biodiversity Hotspot and two marine World Heritage Areas. The subcontinental multi-taxa context documented here reveals that terrestrial and marine biotic responses to heat waves do not occur in isolation, implying that the extent of ecological vulnerability to projected increases in heat waves is underestimated.
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