Biotic interactions in a changing world: the role of feeding interactions in the response of multitrophic communities to rising temperature and nitrogen deposition
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Global warming and increasing atmospheric nitrogen deposition are ranked as second and third most important global drivers of biodiversity loss. Widespread species losses have deep implications for the functioning of ecosystems, the delivery of essential ecosystem services and their resilience to future environmental perturbations. There is growing recognition that interactions between species play a crucial role in determining the response of ecosystems to global environmental changes. Moreover, evidence of synergistic effects between global change drivers has prompted numerous calls to integrate multiple drivers in ecological research. Nevertheless, empirical studies assessing the impacts of temperature and nitrogen on communities at multiple trophic levels are largely absent. This thesis explores the effects of temperature and nitrogen on a tri-trophic system comprising plants, herbivores and natural enemies. The first chapter shows impacts of the drivers on the composition and phenology of an herbivore community. The second chapter highlights changes in biomass under the treatments at three trophic levels. The third chapter explores, for the first time, the impacts of temperature and nitrogen on quantitative food webs. Finally, the last data chapter uses body size as an important species trait to gain insights on the mechanisms causing shifts in food web structure. The key findings of this thesis were i) trophic interactions largely mediated the effects of both global change drivers ii) In particular, strong bottom-up effects determined the system response, with herbivores responding positively and consistently more so than plants and parasitoids in particular. However, iii) this contrasting response was not explained by a phenological mismatch. iv) Food-web structure responded to the changes in composition of herbivores and parasitoids, but shifts in interaction structure did not affect the resilience of the food. However, temperature and nitrogen impacted host-parasitoid food-web structure by altering the response of parasitoid species to host density and size structuring, which is likely to bear consequences on host-parasitoid co-evolution and future food-web architecture and stability. Finally, v) we found frequent, non-additive interactions between the global change drivers. We conclude that co-occurring temperature and nitrogen are likely to alter food-web structure and overall ecosystem balance, with increasing herbivore dominance likely to have important implications for ecosystem functioning and food-web persistence.