Shrinking body size as an ecological response to climate change

Abstract

Determining how climate change will affect global ecology and ecosystem services is one of the next important frontiers in environmental science. Many species already exhibit smaller sizes as a result of climate change and many others are likely to shrink in response to continued climate change, following fundamental ecological and metabolic rules. This could negatively impact both crop plants and protein sources such as fish that are important for human nutrition. Furthermore, heterogeneity in response is likely to upset ecosystem balances. We discuss future research directions to better understand the trend and help ameliorate the trophic cascades and loss of biodiversity that will probably result from continued decreases in organism size.

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Figure 1: Working hypothesis of the major processes of climate change effects on organism size.

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Acknowledgements

We thank G. Blackham, A. Campos-Arceiz, R. Corlett, T. Foley, D. A. Friess, S. Howard, N. Karraker, D. Ng, J. Phelps, B. Pister, S. Poo, M. Posa, L. Qi, J. Rice, B. Scheffers, N. Sodhi, E. L. Webb and A. Wee for helpful comments and discussion on an earlier version of this manuscript. This work was supported by the Ministry of Education of Singapore grants R-154-000-434-112 and R-154-000-383-133.

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Correspondence to Jennifer A. Sheridan or David Bickford.

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Sheridan, J., Bickford, D. Shrinking body size as an ecological response to climate change. Nature Clim Change 1, 401–406 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate1259

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