Climate-induced changes to multi-trophic interactions in an agroecosystem
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Our earth is currently undergoing unprecedented human induced climate change, which is expected to drive widespread changes in species distributions and abundances that will affect natural pest suppression. Recent studies have suggested that climate change may cause changes to predator and herbivore assemblages in ways that alter multi-trophic food webs and affect the stability of ecosystems. Moreover, higher temperatures and increased climatic variability are expected to induce differential responses from predators and their prey that will undoubtedly disrupt species interactions. This thesis aims to test how climate change will impact the ability of natural enemies to continue to control pests in agroecosystems, and how they will continue to survive and function. In a field experiment using 13 farm sites across a natural temperature gradient, I found that temperature had direct positive effects on the abundances of the dominant parasitoid (an aphid specialist) and hyperparasitoid species, highlighting the importance of specific species responses in shaping larger communities. I also found that overall community composition was affected by temperature, with composition in warmer sites changing more throughout the season than cooler sites. In a future of inevitable climatic changes this result tells us we can expect arthropod community structure to change, which will have questionable impacts on overall population dynamics. To build on the field experiments, I used laboratory experiments to test differential responses of species to both drought and temperature and found that natural enemies responded to drought and temperature in a non-additive way, suggesting that the interaction between various climate change drivers is more important than their singular effect. Also, different species of natural enemies responded differently to abiotic factors, highlighting the importance of conserving natural enemies that can maintain important functional attributes in the face of climate change. Although biodiversity can be important for ensuring ecosystem functioning, response diversity, rather than species richness, may better promote ecosystem resilience, especially in the face of changing climate. The mechanisms underlying biodiversity effects are often difficult to disentangle, however, by manipulating the diversity of climate responses exhibited by ecosystem service providers, I tested how the rates and stability of prey suppression by predators are affected by climate warming and drought. I found that predator combinations with different individual responses to climate change maintained greater and less variable (i.e. more stable) prey suppression, compared with single predator species or combinations of predators with similar climate responses. This response complementarity became strongest through time and under drought or high temperature treatments. I suggest that response complementarity provides ‘insurance’ effects, which may be more important than previously envisaged for maintaining ecosystem functions such as biological control under global environmental change. Overall, the non-additive effects of different climate drivers, combined with differing responses across trophic levels, suggests that predicting future pest outbreaks will be more challenging than previously imagined.