Community shifts under climate change: Mechanisms at multiple scales

  • Gornish E
  • Tylianakis J
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PREMISE OF THE STUDY: Processes that drive ecological dynamics differ across spatial scales. Therefore, the pathways through which plant communities and plant-insect relationships respond to changing environmental conditions are also expected to be scale-dependent. Furthermore, the processes that affect individual species or interactions at single sites may differ from those affecting communities across multiple sites.

METHODS: We reviewed and synthesized peer-reviewed literature to identify patterns in biotic or abiotic pathways underpinning changes in the composition and diversity of plant communities under three components of climate change (increasing temperature, CO2, and changes in precipitation) and how these differ across spatial scales. We also explored how these changes to plants affect plant-insect interactions.

KEY RESULTS: The relative frequency of biotic vs. abiotic pathways of climate effects at larger spatial scales often differ from those at smaller scales. Local-scale studies show variable responses to climate drivers, often driven by biotic factors. However, larger scale studies identify changes to species composition and/or reduced diversity as a result of abiotic factors. Differing pathways of climate effects can result from different responses of multiple species, habitat effects, and differing effects of invasions at local vs. regional to global scales. Plant community changes can affect higher trophic levels as a result of spatial or phenological mismatch, foliar quality changes, and plant abundance changes, though studies on plant-insect interactions at larger scales are rare.

CONCLUSIONS: Climate-induced changes to plant communities will have considerable effects on community-scale trophic exchanges, which may differ from the responses of individual species or pairwise interactions.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Composition
  • Diversity
  • Global warming
  • Herbivore
  • Landscape
  • Pollinator
  • Scale effects
  • Species interaction

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  • Elise S. Gornish

  • Jason M. Tylianakis

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