Climate Change Disproportionately Increases Herbivore over Plant or Parasitoid BiomassReport as inadecuate

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All living organisms are linked through trophic relationships with resources and consumers, the balance of which determines overall ecosystem stability and functioning. Ecological research has identified a multitude of mechanisms that contribute to this balance, but ecologists are now challenged with predicting responses to global environmental changes. Despite a wealth of studies highlighting likely outcomes for specific mechanisms and subsets of a system e.g., plants, plant-herbivore or predator-prey interactions, studies comparing overall effects of changes at multiple trophic levels are rare. We used a combination of experiments in a grassland system to test how biomass at the plant, herbivore and natural enemy parasitoid levels responds to the interactive effects of two key global change drivers: warming and nitrogen deposition. We found that higher temperatures and elevated nitrogen generated a multitrophic community that was increasingly dominated by herbivores. Moreover, we found synergistic effects of the drivers on biomass, which differed across trophic levels. Both absolute and relative biomass of herbivores increased disproportionately to that of plants and, in particular, parasitoids, which did not show any significant response to the treatments. Reduced parasitism rates mirrored the profound biomass changes in the system. These findings carry important implications for the response of biota to environmental changes; reduced top-down regulation is likely to coincide with an increase in herbivory, which in turn is likely to cascade to other fundamental ecosystem processes. Our findings also provide multitrophic data to support the general concern of increasing herbivore pest outbreaks in a warmer world.

Author: Claudio de Sassi , Jason M. Tylianakis



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