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Ecological stability in response to warming


That species’ biological rates including metabolism, growth and feeding scale with temperature is well established from warming experiments1. The interactive influence of these changes on population dynamics, however, remains uncertain. As a result, uncertainty about ecological stability in response under warming remains correspondingly high. In previous studies, severe consumer extinction waves in warmed microcosms2 were explained in terms of warming-induced destabilization of population oscillations3. Here, we show that warming stabilizes predator–prey dynamics at the risk of predator extinction. Our results are based on meta-analyses of a global database of temperature effects on metabolic and feeding rates and maximum population size that includes species of different phylogenetic groups and ecosystem types. To unravel population-level consequences we parameterized a bioenergetic predator–prey model4 and simulated warming effects within ecological, non-evolutionary timescales. In contrast to previous studies3, we find that warming stabilized population oscillations up to a threshold temperature, which is true for most of the possible parameter combinations. Beyond the threshold level, warming caused predator extinction due to starvation. Predictions were tested in a microbial predator–prey system. Together, our results indicate a major change in how we expect climate change to alter natural ecosystems: warming should increase population stability while undermining species diversity.

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Figure 1: Empirical warming effects on biological rates.
Figure 2: Simulated predator–prey dynamics across temperature gradients.
Figure 3: Population stability and extinctions in simulated predator–prey systems.
Figure 4: Laboratory time series of the predator T. pyriformis (red lines) and its prey P. fluorescens CHA19-GFP (blue lines).


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The project received financial support from the Dorothea Schlözer Programme of Göttingen University. F.S. gratefully acknowledges financial support from the German Research Foundation (BR 2315/16-1). We thank C. Guill and A. Binzer for constructive ideas and suggestions during the coding process.

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K.E.F., U.B., B.C.R. and A.J. designed the microcosm experiment. K.E.F. conducted the experiments. Statistical procedures on time series and functional responses were carried out by B.C.R. and K.E.F. B.C.R analysed the database. F.S. wrote and analysed the bioenergetic model. All authors contributed to the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Florian Schwarzmüller or Ulrich Brose.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Fussmann, K., Schwarzmüller, F., Brose, U. et al. Ecological stability in response to warming. Nature Clim Change 4, 206–210 (2014).

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