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Title: Predators drive community reorganization during experimental range shifts

Increased global temperatures caused by climate change are causing species to shift their ranges and colonize new sites, creating novel assemblages that have historically not interacted. Species interactions play a central role in the response of ecosystems to climate change, but the role of trophic interactions in facilitating or preventing range expansions is largely unknown.

The goal of our study was to understand how predators influence the ability of range‐shifting prey to successfully establish in newly available habitat following climate warming. We hypothesized that fish predation facilitates the establishment of colonizing zooplankton populations, because fish preferentially consume larger species that would otherwise competitively exclude smaller‐bodied colonists.

We conducted a mesocosm experiment with zooplankton communities and their fish predators from lakes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, USA. We tested the effect of fish predation on the establishment and persistence of a zooplankton community when introduced in the presence of higher‐ and lower‐elevation communities at two experimental temperatures in field mesocosms.

We found that predators reduce the abundance of larger‐bodied residents from the alpine and facilitate the establishment of new lower‐elevation species. In addition, fish predation and warming independently reduced the average body size of zooplankton by up to 30%. This reduction in body size offset the direct effect of warming‐induced increases in population growth rates, leading to no net change in zooplankton biomass or trophic cascade strength.

We found support for a shift to smaller species with climate change through two mechanisms: (a) the direct effects of warming on developmental rates and (b) size‐selective predation that altered the identity of species’ that could colonize new higher elevation habitat. Our results suggest that predators can amplify the rate of range shifts by consuming larger‐bodied residents and facilitating the establishment of new species. However, the effects of climate warming were dampened by reducing the average body size of community members, leading to no net change in ecosystem function, despite higher growth rates. This work suggests that trophic interactions play a role in the reorganization of regional communities under climate warming.

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Author(s) / Creator(s):
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Date Published:
Journal Name:
Journal of Animal Ecology
Page Range / eLocation ID:
p. 2378-2388
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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