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A simple model predicts how warming simplifies wild food webs


O’Gorman, Eoin J; Petchey, Owen L; Faulkner, Katy J; Gallo, Bruno; Gordon, Timothy A C; Neto-Cerejeira, Joana; Ólafsson, Jón S; Pichler, Doris E; Thompson, Murray S A; Woodward, Guy (2019). A simple model predicts how warming simplifies wild food webs. Nature Climate Change, 9(8):611-616.

Abstract

Warming increases the metabolic demand of consumers1, strengthening their feeding interactions2. This could alter energy fluxes and even amplify extinction rates within the food web. Such effects could simplify the structure and dynamics of ecological networks although an empirical test in natural systems has been lacking. Here, we tested this hypothesis by characterizing around 50,000 directly observed feeding interactions across 14 naturally heated stream ecosystems. We found that higher temperature simplified food-web structure and shortened the pathways of energy flux between consumers and resources. A simple allometric diet breadth model predicted 68–82% of feeding interactions and the effects of warming on key food-web properties. We used model simulations to identify the underlying mechanism as a change in the relative diversity and abundance of consumers and their resources. This model shows how warming can reduce the stability of aquatic ecosystems by eroding the structural integrity of the food web. Given these fundamental drivers, such responses are expected to be manifested more broadly and could be predicted using our modelling framework and knowledge of how warming alters some routinely measured characteristics of organisms.

Abstract

Warming increases the metabolic demand of consumers1, strengthening their feeding interactions2. This could alter energy fluxes and even amplify extinction rates within the food web. Such effects could simplify the structure and dynamics of ecological networks although an empirical test in natural systems has been lacking. Here, we tested this hypothesis by characterizing around 50,000 directly observed feeding interactions across 14 naturally heated stream ecosystems. We found that higher temperature simplified food-web structure and shortened the pathways of energy flux between consumers and resources. A simple allometric diet breadth model predicted 68–82% of feeding interactions and the effects of warming on key food-web properties. We used model simulations to identify the underlying mechanism as a change in the relative diversity and abundance of consumers and their resources. This model shows how warming can reduce the stability of aquatic ecosystems by eroding the structural integrity of the food web. Given these fundamental drivers, such responses are expected to be manifested more broadly and could be predicted using our modelling framework and knowledge of how warming alters some routinely measured characteristics of organisms.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies
Dewey Decimal Classification:570 Life sciences; biology
590 Animals (Zoology)
Uncontrolled Keywords:Social Sciences (miscellaneous), Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
Language:English
Date:1 August 2019
Deposited On:21 Jan 2020 12:13
Last Modified:21 Jan 2020 12:14
Publisher:Nature Publishing Group
ISSN:1758-678X
OA Status:Closed
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-019-0513-x

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