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Species-rich ecosystems are vulnerable to cascading extinctions in an indreasingly variable world
Linköping University, Department of Physics, Chemistry and Biology, Theoretical Biology. Linköping University, The Institute of Technology.
Linköping University, Department of Physics, Chemistry and Biology, Theoretical Biology. Linköping University, The Institute of Technology.
Linköping University, Department of Physics, Chemistry and Biology, Theoretical Biology. Linköping University, The Institute of Technology.
Linköping University, Department of Physics, Chemistry and Biology, Theoretical Biology. Linköping University, The Institute of Technology.
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2012 (English)In: Ecology and Evolution, ISSN 2045-7758, E-ISSN 2045-7758, Vol. 2, no 4, 858-874 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Global warming leads to increased intensity and frequency of weather extremes. Such increased environmental variability might in turn result in increased variation in the demographic rates of interacting species with potentially important consequences for the dynamics of food-webs. Using a theoretical approach we here explore the response of food-webs to a highly variable environment. We investigate how species richness and correlation in the responses of species to environmental fluctuations affect the risk of extinction cascades. We find that the risk of extinction cascades increases with increasing species richness, especially when correlation among species is low. Initial extinctions of primary producer species unleash bottom-up extinction cascades, especially in webs with specialist consumers. In this sense, species-rich ecosystems are less robust to increasing levels of environmental variability than species-poor ones. Our study thus suggests that highly species-rich ecosystems like coral reefs and tropical rainforests might be particularly vulnerable to increased climate variability.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
John Wiley & Sons, 2012. Vol. 2, no 4, 858-874 p.
Keyword [en]
Biodiversity; climate change; environmental variability; ecological networks; extinction cascades; food-web; species interactions; stability; stochastic models; weather extremes
National Category
Natural Sciences
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-74700DOI: 10.1002/ece3.218ISI: 000312444000015OAI: oai:DiVA.org:liu-74700DiVA: diva2:490440
Available from: 2012-02-05 Created: 2012-02-05 Last updated: 2017-12-08Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Dynamics of ecological communities in variable environments: local and spatial processes
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Dynamics of ecological communities in variable environments: local and spatial processes
2012 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The ecosystems of the world are currently facing a variety of anthropogenic perturbations, such as climate change, fragmentation and destruction of habitat, overexploitation of natural resources and invasions of alien species. How the ecosystems will be affected is not only dependent on the direct effects of the perturbations on individual species but also on the trophic structure and interaction patterns of the ecological community. Of particular current concern is the response of ecological communities to climate change. Increased global temperature is expected to cause an increased intensity and frequency of weather extremes. A more unpredictable and more variable environment will have important consequences not only for individual species but also for the dynamics of the entire community. If we are to fully understand the joint effects of a changing climate and habitat fragmentation, there is also a need to understand the spatial aspects of community dynamics. In the present work we use dynamic models to theoretically explore the importance of local (Paper I and II) and spatial processes (Paper III-V) for the response of multi-trophic communities to different kinds of perturbations.

In paper I we investigate how species richness and correlation in species responses to a highly variable environment affect the risk of extinction cascades. We find that the risk of extinction cascades increases with increasing species richness especially when the correlation among species is low. Initial stochastic extinctions of primary producer species unleash bottomup extinction cascades, where specialist consumers are especially vulnerable. Although the risks of extinction cascades were higher in the species-rich systems, we found that the temporal stability of aggregate abundance of primary producers increased with increasing richness. Thus, species richness had a two-sided effect on community stability. Also during the extinction cascades it is possible that more robust species and interaction patterns will be selected which would further act to stabilize the post-extinction communities. In paper II we explore how the process of disassembly affects the structure of the interaction network and the robustness of the community to additional disturbances. We find that the disassembled communities are structurally different and more resistant to disturbances than equally sized communities that have not gone through a phase of disassembly. The disassembled communities are topologically as well as dynamically more stable than non-disassembled communities.

In paper III, IV and V we expand the analysis to incorporate the spatial dimension. In paper III we analyze how metacommunities (a set of local communities coupled by species dispersal) in spatially explicit landscapes respond to environmental variation. We examine how this response is affected by varying 1) species richness in the local communities, 2) the degree of correlation in species response to the environmental variation, between species within patches (species correlation) and among patches (spatial correlation) and 3) dispersal pattern of species. First we can confirm that our previous findings from paper I regarding local species richness and correlation among species within a patch are robust to the inclusion of a spatial dimension. However our results also show that the spatial dynamics are of great importance: first we find that the risk of global extinctions increases with increasing spatial correlation. Second we find that the pattern and rate of dispersal are important; a high migration rate in combination with localized dispersal decrease the risk of global extinctions whereas a global dispersal pattern increases the risk of global extinctions. When dispersal is global the subpopulations of a species become more synchronized which reduces the potential for a patch to become recolonized following extinctions. We also demonstrate the importance of both local and spatial processes when examining the temporal stability of primary production at the scale of metapopulations, local communities and metacommunities.

In paper IV we investigate how the spatial structure of the landscape (number of patches) and dispersal pattern of species affect a metacommunities response to increased mortality during dispersal and local loss of species. We find a two-sided effect of dispersal on metacommunity persistence; on the one hand, high migration rate significantly reduces the risk of bottom-up extinction cascades following the removal of a species when dispersal involves no risk. On the other hand, high migration rate increases extinction risks when dispersal imposes a risk to the dispersing individuals, especially when dispersal is global. Species with long generation times at the highest trophic level are particularly vulnerable to extinction when dispersal involves a risk. These results suggest that decreasing the mortality risk of dispersing individuals by constructing habitat corridors or by improving the quality of the habitat matrix might greatly increase the robustness of metacommunities to local loss of species by enhancing recolonisations and rescue effects.

In paper V we use network theory to identify keystone patches in the landscape, patches that are of critical importance for the local and global persistence of species in the metacommunity. By deleting patches one at a time and investigating the risk of local and global extinctions we quantified the importance of a patch’s position in the landscape for the persistence of species within the metacommunity. A selection of indices were used including some local indices that measure the connectedness of a patch in the intact network and some indices which measure the decrease in a global index after the deletion of the patch from the network. Global indices are those that give an impression of the connectivity of the entire patch network. We find that deletion of patches contributing strongly to the connectivity of the entire patch network had the most negative effect on species persistence.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press, 2012. 36 p.
Series
Linköping Studies in Science and Technology. Dissertations, ISSN 0345-7524 ; 1431
National Category
Natural Sciences
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-76165 (URN)9789175199467 (ISBN)
Public defence
2012-04-04, Planck, Fysikhuset, Campus Valla, Linköpings universitet, Linköping, 10:15 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2012-03-29 Created: 2012-03-29 Last updated: 2017-12-14Bibliographically approved
2. Extinctions in Ecological Communities: direct and indirect effects of perturbation on biodiversity
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Extinctions in Ecological Communities: direct and indirect effects of perturbation on biodiversity
2014 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

In the dawning of what may become Earth’s 6th mass extinction the topic of this thesis, understanding extinction processes and what determines the magnitude of species loss, has become only too relevant. The number of known extinctions (~850) during the last centuries translates to extinction rates elevated above the background rate, matching those of previous mass extinction events. The main drivers of these extinctions have been human land use, introduction of exotic species and overexploitation. Under continued anthropogenic pressure and climate change, the current extinction rates are predicted to increase tenfold.

Large perturbations, such as the extinction drivers mentioned above, affects species directly, causing a change in their abundance. As species are not isolated, but connected to each other through a multitude of interactions, the change in abundance of one species can in turn affect others. Thus, in addition to the direct effect, a perturbation can affect a species indirectly through the ecological network in which the species is embedded. With this thesis, I wish to contribute to our basic understanding of these indirect effects and the role they play in determining the magnitude of species loss. All the studies included here are so called in silico experiments, using mathematical models to describe ecological communities and computer simulations to observe the response of these communities to perturbation.

When a perturbation is severe enough, a species will be driven to extinction. The loss of a species from a system is in itself a large perturbation, and may result in further extinctions, so called secondary extinctions. The traits of the species initially lost, can be a potential predictor of the magnitude of secondary species loss. In Paper I of this thesis, I show that when making such predictions, it is important to incorporate temporally dynamic species interactions and abundances, in order not to underestimate the importance of certain species, such as top predators.

I further show that species traits alone are not particularly good predictors of secondary extinction risk (Paper I), but that in combination with community level properties they are (Paper II). Indeed, there seems to be an interaction such that the specific property making a community prone to secondary species loss, depends on what kind of species was lost in the primary extinction. As different types of perturbation put different types of species at risk of (primary) extinction, this means that the specific property making a community prone to secondary species loss, will depend on the type of perturbation the community is subjected to.

One of the predicted main drivers of future species extinction is climate change. If the local climate becomes adverse, a species can either migrate to new and better areas or stay and evolve. Both these processes will be important in determining the magnitude of species loss under climate change. However, migration and evolution do not occur in vacuum – the biotic community in which these processes play out may modulate their effect on biodiversity. In paper III, I show that the strength of competition between species modulates the effect of both dispersal and evolution on the magnitude of species loss under climate change. The three-way interaction between interspecific competition, evolution and dispersal, creates a complex pattern of biodiversity responses, in which both evolution and dispersal can either increase or decrease the magnitude of species loss. Thus, when species interactions are incorporated, it is clear that even though migration and evolution may alleviate the impact of climate change for some species, they may indirectly aggravate the situation for others.

In Paper III, the aspect of climate change incorporated in the model is an increase in mean annual temperature. But climate change is also predicted to increase environmental variability. Paper IV shows that species-rich communities are more sensitive to high environmental variability than species-poor ones. The smaller population sizes in the species-rich communities increased the extinction risk connected to population fluctuations driven by the variable environment. Hence, systems such as tropical forests and coral reefs are predicted to be particularly sensitive to the increased variability that may follow with climate change.

In Paper IV, primary extinctions of primary producers result in extinction cascades of consumer species, when they lose their prey. However, in reality a consumer species might be able to switch to another prey, and such flexibility has both been observed and suggested as a potential rescue mechanism. But what is beneficial for an individual predator in the short-term can become detrimental to the ecological community in the long-term. Paper V shows that consumer flexibility often led to consumers continuously overexploiting their new prey, in the worst case to the point of system collapse. Thus, the suggested rescue mechanism aggravated the effect of initial species loss, rather than ameliorating it.

Overall, the research presented here, underscores the importance of including population dynamics and biotic interactions when studying the effects of perturbation on biodiversity. Many of the results are complex, hard to foresee or even counter-intuitive, arising from the indirect effects of the perturbation being translated through the living web of species interactions.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press, 2014. 60 p.
Series
Linköping Studies in Science and Technology. Dissertations, ISSN 0345-7524 ; 1609
National Category
Other Natural Sciences
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-108906 (URN)10.3384/diss.diva-108906 (DOI)978-91-7519-278-9 (ISBN)
Public defence
2014-08-29, Schrödinger, Fysikhuset, Campus Valla, Linköpings universitet, Linköping, 10:15 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2014-07-11 Created: 2014-07-11 Last updated: 2017-04-19Bibliographically approved

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