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Manipulating the strength of organism–environment feedback increases nonlinearity and apparent hysteresis of ecosystem response to environmental change


Garnier, Aurélie; Hulot, Florence D; Petchey, Owen L (2020). Manipulating the strength of organism–environment feedback increases nonlinearity and apparent hysteresis of ecosystem response to environmental change. Ecology and Evolution, 10(12):5527-5543.

Abstract

Theory predicts that organism–environment feedbacks play a central role in how ecological communities respond to environmental change. Strong feedback causes greater nonlinearity between environmental change and ecosystem state, increases the likelihood of hysteresis in response to environmental change, and augments the possibility of alternative stable regimes. To illustrate these predictions and their dependence on a temporal scale, we simulated a minimal ecosystem model. To test the predictions, we manipulated the feedback strength between the metabolism and the dissolved oxygen concentration in an aquatic heterotrophic tri‐trophic community in microecosystems. The manipulation consisted of five levels, ranging from low to high feedback strength by altering the oxygen diffusivity: free gas exchange between the microcosm atmosphere and the external air (metabolism not strongly affecting environmental oxygen), with the regular addition of 200, 100, or 50 ml of air and no gas exchange. To test for nonlinearity and hysteresis in response to environmental change, all microecosystems experienced a gradual temperature increase from 15 to 25°C and then back to 15°C. We regularly measured the dissolved oxygen concentration, total biomass, and species abundance. Nonlinearity and hysteresis were higher in treatments with stronger organism–environment feedbacks. There was no evidence that stronger feedback increased the number of observed ecosystem states. These empirical results are in broad agreement with the theory that stronger feedback increases nonlinearity and hysteresis. They therefore represent one of the first direct empirical tests of the importance of feedback strength. However, we discuss several limitations of the study, which weaken confidence in this interpretation. Research demonstrating the causal effects of feedback strength on ecosystem responses to environmental change should be placed at the core of efforts to plan for sustainable ecosystems.

Abstract

Theory predicts that organism–environment feedbacks play a central role in how ecological communities respond to environmental change. Strong feedback causes greater nonlinearity between environmental change and ecosystem state, increases the likelihood of hysteresis in response to environmental change, and augments the possibility of alternative stable regimes. To illustrate these predictions and their dependence on a temporal scale, we simulated a minimal ecosystem model. To test the predictions, we manipulated the feedback strength between the metabolism and the dissolved oxygen concentration in an aquatic heterotrophic tri‐trophic community in microecosystems. The manipulation consisted of five levels, ranging from low to high feedback strength by altering the oxygen diffusivity: free gas exchange between the microcosm atmosphere and the external air (metabolism not strongly affecting environmental oxygen), with the regular addition of 200, 100, or 50 ml of air and no gas exchange. To test for nonlinearity and hysteresis in response to environmental change, all microecosystems experienced a gradual temperature increase from 15 to 25°C and then back to 15°C. We regularly measured the dissolved oxygen concentration, total biomass, and species abundance. Nonlinearity and hysteresis were higher in treatments with stronger organism–environment feedbacks. There was no evidence that stronger feedback increased the number of observed ecosystem states. These empirical results are in broad agreement with the theory that stronger feedback increases nonlinearity and hysteresis. They therefore represent one of the first direct empirical tests of the importance of feedback strength. However, we discuss several limitations of the study, which weaken confidence in this interpretation. Research demonstrating the causal effects of feedback strength on ecosystem responses to environmental change should be placed at the core of efforts to plan for sustainable ecosystems.

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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)
Scopus Subject Areas:Life Sciences > Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
Physical Sciences > Ecology
Physical Sciences > Nature and Landscape Conservation
Uncontrolled Keywords:Ecology, Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics, Nature and Landscape Conservation
Language:English
Date:1 June 2020
Deposited On:02 Feb 2021 15:08
Last Modified:06 Feb 2021 04:32
Publisher:Wiley Open Access
ISSN:2045-7758
OA Status:Gold
Free access at:PubMed ID. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.6294
PubMed ID:32607172
Project Information:
  • : FunderSNSF
  • : Grant ID31003A_159498
  • : Project TitlePredicting the effects of temperature on ecological systems, at population, community, and ecosystem levels of organisation

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