Climate Change And Species Interaction
May 23, 2013

Climate Change Effects Seen In Species Interaction

Peter Suciu for — Your Universe Online

While the weather can affect a person´s mood, life scientists at UCLA have offered new evidence that climate change could affect interaction between species.

The study, titled “Temperature dependence of trophic interactions are driven by asymmetry of species responses and foraging strategy” and published in the Journal of Animal Ecology, suggests that environmental temperature could have systematic effects on the rates of species interactions, which could occur primarily through its influence on organismal physiology.

The research team presented a mechanistic model for the thermal response of consumer—resource interactions, which focused on how temperature might affect species interactions via key traits; including body velocity, detection distance, search rate and handling time.

“There is a growing recognition among biologists that climate change is affecting how species interact with one another, and that this is going to have very important consequences for the stability and functioning of ecosystems,” Van Savage, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and of biomathematics at UCLA and senior author of the research, said in a statement. “However, there is still a very limited understanding of exactly what these changes will be. Our paper makes progress on this very important question."

The team contends that climate change, which scientists believe could be causing global increases in mean temperature as well as more fluctuations and greater variability in temperature, could also be a factor in which species are able to interact without going extinct.

“These changes may bring about novel and potentially unstable species interactions by causing warm-adapted species to seek out geographic regions and to experience seasonal periods that have historically been too cold for them until temperatures begin to rise,” added lead author Anthony Dell, a former UCLA postdoctoral researcher now at Germany´s University of Gottingen.

The researchers contend that such changes could also destabilize entire ecosystems, including rainforests and coral reefs.

Samraat Pawar, a former UCLA postdoctoral researcher currently at the University of Chicago, and co-author of the study, added that biologists are becoming increasingly aware of the changes in species interactions, and that these are biological impacts of climate change. He noted that it is still challenging to understand and predict.

Savage´s research team noted that it has made significant progress on this front through the development of a biotraits database, which the group has already used for statistical analysis and mechanistic mathematical models to provide information on how these various biological traits of organisms respond to changes in temperature as well as other environmental factors.

The team has been able to look at the impact temperature changes could have on the rate at which an organism uses energy, which known as the metabolic rate. This has allowed the team to make predictions about how an organism´s activity, as well as the broader ecology, is affected by temperature.

However, the research team said it is still impossible to study all the species on the planet, but with these new mathematical models, predictions can be made about effects of warming on different types of consumer—resource interactions.

“The large diversity of species that make up natural ecosystems mean it is logistically infeasible to study every species interaction in a community and make predictions about how these interactions will be affected by climate warming,” Savage added. “However, models that assume all species respond to temperature in the same way will both miss the large diversity in ecological systems and therefore miss the most important consequences that arise from differential and asymmetric responses to temperature among species.”