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Biodiversity of intertidal food webs in response to warming across latitudes


Global warming threatens community stability and biodiversity around the globe. Knowledge of the mechanisms underlying the responses to rising temperatures depends heavily on generic food-web models that do not account for changes in network structure along latitudes and temperature gradients. Using 124 marine rock-pool food webs sampled across four continents, we show that despite substantial variation in ambient temperature (mean 11.5–28.4 °C), similar empirical food-web and body-mass structures emerge. We have used dynamic modelling to test whether communities from warmer regions are more sensitive to warming and found a general hump-shaped relationship between simulated biodiversity and temperature (gradient from 0–50 °C). This implies that an expected anthropogenic global warming of 4 °C should increase biodiversity in arctic to temperate regions while biodiversity in tropical regions should decrease. Interestingly, simulations of synthetic networks did not yield similar results, which stresses the importance of considering the specificities of natural food webs for predicting community responses to environmental changes.

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Fig. 1: Structure and distribution of natural rock-pool food webs.
Fig. 2: Analysis of community structure.
Fig. 3: Response of persistence to temperature increase, depending on local temperature conditions.
Fig. 4: Relationship between species persistence and temperature in simulations.
Fig. 5: Comparison of trophic levels and herbivory links between niche and experimental networks.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are archived in a public repository accessible at: (ref. 50).

Code availability

The codes used to run the model and to analyse the results are available on Github at (ref. 51).


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B.C.R., U.B. and B.G. acknowledge the support of the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig funded by the German Research Foundation (FZT 118). C.V. and V.M. acknowledge the project WarmingWebs PTDC/MAR-EST/2141/2012, the research position granted to C.V., the PhD grant SFRH/BD/109618/2015 awarded to V.M. and the strategic project UID/MAR/04292/2019 granted to MARE and UID/Multi/04326/2019 granted to CCMAR, funded by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology. We thank C. Krause for help with the HPC.

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B.G. and U.B. designed the study. V.M. and C.V. collected the data. B.G. wrote the first draft of the manuscript and performed simulations. All authors contributed to the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Benoit Gauzens.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature Climate Change thanks Arnaud Sentis and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Gauzens, B., Rall, B.C., Mendonça, V. et al. Biodiversity of intertidal food webs in response to warming across latitudes. Nat. Clim. Chang. 10, 264–269 (2020).

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