Killer whales (Orcinus orca) are major predators that may reshape marine ecosystems via top-down forcing. Climate change models predict major reductions in sea ice with the subsequent expectation for readjustments of species' distribution and abundance. Here, we measure changes in killer whale distribution in the Hudson Bay region with decreasing sea ice as an example of global readjustments occurring with climate change. We summarize records of killer whales in Hudson Bay, Hudson Strait, and Foxe Basin in the eastern Canadian Arctic and relate them to an historical sea ice data set while accounting for spatial and temporal autocorrelation in the data. We find evidence for "choke points," where sea ice inhibits killer whale movement, thereby creating restrictions to their Arctic distribution. We hypothesize that a threshold exists in seasonal sea ice concentration within these choke points that results in pulses in advancements in distribution of an ice-avoiding predator. Hudson Strait appears to have been a significant sea ice choke point that opened up .approximately 50 years ago allowing for an initial punctuated appearance of killer whales followed by a gradual advancing distribution within the entire Hudson Bay region. Killer whale sightings have increased exponentially and are now reported in the Hudson Bay region every summer. We predict that other choke points will soon open up with continued sea ice melt producing punctuated predator-prey trophic cascades across the Arctic.
In highly seasonal environments, offspring production by vertebrates is timed to coincide with the annual peak of resource availability. For herbivores, this resource peak is represented by the annual onset and progression of the plant growth season. As plant phenology advances in response to climatic warming, there is potential for development of a mismatch between the peak of resource demands by reproducing herbivores and the peak of resource availability. For migratory herbivores, such as caribou, development of a trophic mismatch is particularly likely because the timing of their seasonal migration to summer ranges, where calves are born, is cued by changes in day length, while onset of the plant-growing season on the same ranges is cued by local temperatures. Using data collected since 1993 on timing of calving by caribou and timing of plant growth in West Greenland, we document the consequences for reproductive success of a developing trophic mismatch between caribou and their forage plants. As mean spring temperatures at our study site have risen by more than 4 degrees C, caribou have not kept pace with advancement of the plant-growing season on their calving range. As a consequence, offspring mortality has risen and offspring production has dropped fourfold.
This paper focuses on how food web structure and interactions among species affects the vulnerability, due to environmental variability, to extinction of species at different positions in model food webs. Vulnerability is here not measured by a traditional extinction threshold but is instead inspired by the IUCN criteria for endangered species: an observed rapid decline in population abundance. Using model webs influenced by stochasticity with zero autocorrelation, we investigate the ecological determinants of species vulnerability, i.e. the trophic interactions between species and food web structure and how these interact with the risk of sudden drops in abundance of species. We find that (i) producers fulfil the criterion of vulnerable species more frequently than other species, (ii) food web structure is related to vulnerability, and (iii) the vulnerability of species is greater when involved in a strong trophic interaction than when not. We note that our result on the relationship between extinction risk and trophic position of species contradict previous suggestions and argue that the main reason for the discrepancy probably is due to the fact that we study the vulnerability to environmental stochasticity and not extinction risk due to overexploitation, habitat destruction or interactions with introduced species. Thus, we suggest that the vulnerability of species to environmental stochasticity may be differently related to trophic position than the vulnerability of species to other factors. Earlier research on species extinctions has looked for intrinsic traits of species that correlate with increased vulnerability to extinction. However, to fully understand the extinction process we must also consider that species interactions may affect vulnerability and that not all extinctions are the result of long, gradual reductions in species abundances. Under environmental stochasticity (which importance frequently is assumed to increase as a result of climate change) and direct and indirect interactions with other species some extinctions may occur rapidly and apparently unexpectedly. To identify the first declines of population abundances that may escalate and lead to extinctions as early as possible, we need to recognize which species are at greatest risk of entering such dangerous routes and under what circumstances. This new perspective may contribute to our understanding of the processes leading to extinction of populations and eventually species. This is especially urgent in the light of the current biodiversity crisis where a large fraction of the world's biodiversity is threatened.
BACKGROUND: The dusky dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obscurus) is distributed along temperate, coastal regions of New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, and Peru where it feeds on schooling anchovy, sardines, and other small fishes and squid tightly associated with temperate ocean sea surface temperatures. Previous studies have suggested that the dusky dolphin dispersed in the Southern Hemisphere eastward from Peru via a linear, temperate dispersal corridor provided by the circumpolar west-wind drift. With new mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequence data, we propose an alternative phylogeographic history for the dusky dolphin that was structured by paleoceanographic conditions that repeatedly altered the distribution of its temperate prey species during the Plio-Pleistocene. RESULTS: In contrast to the west-wind drift hypothesis, phylogenetic analyses support a Pacific/Indian Ocean origin, with a relatively early and continued isolation of Peru from other regions. Dispersal of the dusky dolphin into the Atlantic is correlated with the history of anchovy populations, including multiple migrations from New Zealand to South Africa. Additionally, the cooling of the Eastern Equatorial Pacific led to the divergence of anchovy populations, which in turn explains the north-south equatorial transgression of L. obliquidens and the subsequent divergence of L. obscurus in the Southern Hemisphere. CONCLUSION: Overall, our study fails to support the west-wind drift hypothesis. Instead, our data indicate that changes in primary productivity and related abundance of prey played a key role in shaping the phylogeography of the dusky dolphin, with periods of ocean change coincident with important events in the history of this temperate dolphin species. Moderate, short-term changes in sea surface temperatures and current systems have a powerful effect on anchovy populations; thus, it is not infeasible that repeated fluctuations in anchovy populations continue to play an important role in the history of coastal dolphin populations.
The aim of this study was to detect vegetation change and to examine trophic interactions in a Sphagnum-dominated mire in response to raised temperature and nitrogen (N) addition. A long-term global-change experiment was established in 1995, with monthly additions of N (30 kg x ha(-1) x yr(-1)) and sulfur (20 kg x ha(-1) x yr(-1)) during the vegetation period. Mean air temperature was raised by 3.6 degrees C with warming chambers. Vegetation responses were negligible for all treatments for the first four years, and no sulfur effect was seen during the course of the experiment. However, after eight years of continuous treatments, the closed Sphagnum carpet was drastically reduced from 100% in 1995 down to 41%, averaged over all N-treated plots. Over the same period, total vascular plant cover (of the graminoid Eriophorum vaginatum and the two dwarf-shrubs Andromeda polifolia and Vaccinium oxycoccos) increased from 24% to an average of 70% in the N plots. Nitrogen addition caused leaf N concentrations to rise in the two dwarf-shrubs, while for E. vaginatum, leaf N remained unchanged, indicating that the graminoid to a larger extent than the dwarf-shrubs allocated supplemented N to growth. Concurrent with foliar N accumulation of the two dwarf-shrubs, we observed increased disease incidences caused by parasitic fungi, with three species out of 16 showing a significant increase. Warming caused a significant decrease in occurrence of three parasitic fungal species. In general, decreased disease incidences were found in temperature treatments for A. polifolia and in plots without N addition for V. oxycoccos. The study demonstrates that both bryophytes and vascular plants at boreal mires, only receiving background levels of nitrogen of about 2 kg x ha(-1) x yr(-1), exhibit a time lag of more than five years in response to nitrogen and temperature rise, emphasizing the need for long-term experiments. Moreover, it shows that trophic interactions are likely to differ markedly in response to climate change and increased N deposition, and that these interactions might play an important role in controlling the change in mire vegetation composition, with implications for both carbon sequestration and methane emission.
The Antarctic Peninsula is experiencing one of the fastest rates of regional climate change on Earth, resulting in the collapse of ice shelves, the retreat of glaciers and the exposure of new terrestrial habitat. In the nearby oceanic system, winter sea ice in the Bellingshausen and Amundsen seas has decreased in extent by 10% per decade, and shortened in seasonal duration. Surface waters have warmed by more than 1 K since the 1950s, and the Circumpolar Deep Water (CDW) of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current has also warmed. Of the changes observed in the marine ecosystem of the western Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) region to date, alterations in winter sea ice dynamics are the most likely to have had a direct impact on the marine fauna, principally through shifts in the extent and timing of habitat for ice-associated biota. Warming of seawater at depths below ca 100 m has yet to reach the levels that are biologically significant. Continued warming, or a change in the frequency of the flooding of CDW onto the WAP continental shelf may, however, induce sublethal effects that influence ecological interactions and hence food-web operation. The best evidence for recent changes in the ecosystem may come from organisms which record aspects of their population dynamics in their skeleton (such as molluscs or brachiopods) or where ecological interactions are preserved (such as in encrusting biota of hard substrata). In addition, a southwards shift of marine isotherms may induce a parallel migration of some taxa similar to that observed on land. The complexity of the Southern Ocean food web and the nonlinear nature of many interactions mean that predictions based on short-term studies of a small number of species are likely to be misleading.
Large variations exist in the size, abundance and biota of the two principal categories of freshwater ecosystems, lotic (flowing water; e.g., rivers, streams, deltas and estuaries) and lentic (standing water; lakes, ponds and wetlands) found across the circumpolar Arctic. Arctic climate, many components of which exhibit strong variations along latitudinal gradients, directly affects a range of physical, chemical and biological processes in these aquatic systems. Furthermore, arctic climate creates additional indirect ecological effects through the control of terrestrial hydrologic systems and processes, particularly those associated with cryospheric components such as permafrost, freshwater ice and snow accumulation/ablation. The ecological structure and function of arctic freshwater systems are also controlled by external processes and conditions, particularly those in the headwaters of the major arctic rivers and in the adjacent marine environment. The movement of physical, chemical and biotic components through the interlinked lentic and lotic freshwater systems are major determinants of arctic freshwater ecology.
Temperature-driven changes in interactions between populations are crucial to the estimation of the impact of global warming on aquatic food webs. We analysed inter-annual variability in two data sets from Bautzen reservoir, Germany. In a long-term data set (1981-1999) we examined the pelagic phenology of Daphnia galeata, a keystone species, the invertebrate predator Leptodora kindtii, phytoplankton and Secchi depth in relation to water temperature and the North Atlantic Oscillation index. In a short-term data set (1995-1998) we examined food web relations, particularly the consumption of D. galeata by young-of-the-year (YOY) percids and L. kindtii and rates of population change of D. galeata (abundance, recruitment pattern and non-consumptive mortality). The start of the clear-water stage (CWS) was correlated with winter temperatures. It started 5.8 days earlier per degree warming after warm winters (mean January-March temperature>or=2.5 degrees C) compared to cold winters (mean temperatureor=14 degrees C) compared to years when it was low (
The reproductive success of predators depends on abiotic environmental conditions, food abundance and population density, and food abundance, density and their interactions may respond to changes in climatic conditions. Timing of reproduction by five of the eight numerically most common prey of the sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus advanced significantly since 1971, during a period of temperature increase. There was no evidence that mean laying date or any other reproductive parameter of sparrowhawks changed consistently during the study period 1977-1997. Laying date advanced and percentage of unsuccessful female sparrowhawks decreased with beech mast in the current year, an index of food abundance for avian prey. Mean laying date of sparrowhawks was advanced in warmer springs, and although mean clutch size was not larger in warm than in cold springs, mean brood size of successful pairs and breeding success increased in such springs, showing that sparrowhawks enjoyed a fitness gain when reproducing early. The timing of sparrowhawk reproduction with respect to the peak in abundance of fledgling prey increased, from a good match between mean timing of fledging by prey and maximum demand for food by the predator in 1977, to reproduction occurring later than the peak in fledging prey availability in 1997. The size of the breeding population of sparrowhawks was not predicted by mean spring temperature, the size of the breeding population the previous year or beech mast crop. The size of the post-breeding population was predicted by size of the breeding and post-breeding population the previous year and by the proportion of unsuccessful females the current year. These findings imply that sparrowhawks did not respond to change in climate, although climate changed the timing of reproduction by the main prey species.
Parasitoids depend on a series of adaptations to the ecology and physiology of their hosts and host plants for survival and are thus likely highly susceptible to changes in environmental conditions. We analyze the effects of global warming and extreme temperatures on the life-history traits of parasitoids and interactions with their hosts. Adaptations of parasitoids to low temperatures are similar to those of most ectotherms, but these adaptations are constrained by the responses of their hosts. Life-history traits are affected by cold exposure, and extreme temperatures can reduce endosymbiont populations inside a parasitoid, eventually eliminating populations of endosymbionts that are susceptible to high temperatures. In several cases, divergences between the thermal preferences of the host and those of the parasitoid lead to a disruption of the temporal or geographical synchronization, increasing the risk of host outbreaks. A careful analysis on how host-parasitoid systems react to changes in temperature is needed so that researchers may predict and manage the consequences of global change at the ecosystem level.
Polar organisms have adapted their seasonal cycles to the dynamic interface between ice and water. This interface ranges from the micrometre-sized brine channels within sea ice to the planetary-scale advance and retreat of sea ice. Polar marine ecosystems are particularly sensitive to climate change because small temperature differences can have large effects on the extent and thickness of sea ice. Little is known about the interactions between large, long-lived organisms and their planktonic food supply. Disentangling the effects of human exploitation of upper trophic levels from basin-wide, decade-scale climate cycles to identify long-term, global trends is a daunting challenge facing polar bio-oceanography.
Most studies of climate-driven changes in avian breeding phenology have focused on temperate passerines, yet the consequences of such environmental change may be more deleterious for other avian taxa, such as arctic and sub-arctic waders (Charadrii). We therefore examine large-scale climatic correlates of the breeding phenology of one such species (golden plover Pluvialis apricaria), and the timing of emergence of their adult tipulid prey, to assess the potential for climate change to disrupt breeding performance. Golden plover first-laying dates were negatively correlated with both March and April temperature, the mean laying date of first clutches was additionally negatively correlated with March rainfall. The timing of final laying dates were negatively correlated with April temperature only. The timing of tipulid emergence was negatively correlated with May temperature. In combination with historical climatic data, these models suggest a 9-day advancement of golden plover first-laying dates occurred during the 1990s, although this remains within the range of natural variation for the twentieth century. The magnitudes of predicted changes in mean and final laying dates, and the timing of tipulid emergence, were smaller. Climate predictions for 2070-2099 suggest potential advances in first-laying dates by 25 days, whilst the timings of mean and final laying dates are predicted to change by 18 days and 13 days, and tipulid emergence by 12 days. Given the importance of adult tipulids to young golden plover chicks, these changes may result in a mismatch between the timing of first-laying dates and tipulid emergence, so reducing the success of early breeding attempts. Modelling suggests that these changes could reduce breeding success in a South Pennines population by about 11%.
Sustained observations (SOs) have provided invaluable information on the ocean's biology and biogeochemistry for over 50 years. They continue to play a vital role in elucidating the functioning of the marine ecosystem, particularly in the light of ongoing climate change. Repeated, consistent observations have provided the opportunity to resolve temporal and/or spatial variability in ocean biogeochemistry, which has driven exploration of the factors controlling biological parameters and processes. Here, I highlight some of the key breakthroughs in biological oceanography that have been enabled by SOs, which include areas such as trophic dynamics, understanding variability, improved biogeochemical models and the role of ocean biology in the global carbon cycle. In the near future, SOs are poised to make progress on several fronts, including detecting climate change effects on ocean biogeochemistry, high-resolution observations of physical-biological interactions and greater observational capability in both the mesopelagic zone and harsh environments, such as the Arctic. We are now entering a new era for biological SOs, one in which our motivations have evolved from the need to acquire basic understanding of the ocean's state and variability, to a need to understand ocean biogeochemistry in the context of increasing pressure in the form of climate change, overfishing and eutrophication.
Natal dispersal allows individuals to reach suitable breeding sites. The effect of present plant phenology as a cue for dispersal into areas with favourable stages of development has been well established across avian and mammalian taxa. However, the effect of past experience is less understood. We studied the effect of past and present phenology of the environment on the direction and distance of natal dispersal in a passerine bird, the pied flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca). We monitored spring settlement of local recruits in six nest box plots along a 10-km stretch of a south-north gradient of plant and caterpillar food development. We found that males used both past experience of caterpillar phenology from early life and actual plant phenology during the recruitment season as independent cues for breeding settlement. Males that had experienced a mismatch with the caterpillar food peak as a nestling, and/or those that arrived late in the spring in the recruitment year, moved north of their natal site, whereas males that had experienced a better match with the caterpillars as a nestling, and/or those that migrated earlier in the spring, settled at a similar site or more to the south. In females, no such effects were found, suggesting that the usage of phenological cues is sex specific. In summary, tracking environmental phenology by natal dispersal may represent an effective mechanism for settling in new favourable areas, and may thus potentially cause rapid change of a species' geographical breeding range in response to climate change.
From a trophic perspective, a seasonal increase in air temperature and photoperiod propagates as bottom-up pulse of primary production by plants, secondary production by herbivores, and tertiary production by carnivores. However, food web seasonality reflects not only abiotic variation in temperature and photoperiod, but also the composition of the biotic community and their functional responses to this variation. Some plants and animals-here referred to as seasonal specialists-decouple from food webs in winter through migration or various forms of metabolic arrest (e.g., senescence, diapause, and hibernation), whereas some plants and resident animals-here referred to as seasonal generalists-remain present and trophically coupled in winter. The co-occurrence of species with divergent responses to winter introduces seasonal variation in interaction strengths, resulting in summer-to-winter differences in trophic organization. Autumn cooling and shortening day length arrests primary productivity and cues seasonal herbivores to decouple, leaving generalist carnivores to concentrate their predation on the few generalist herbivores that remain resident, active, and vulnerable to predation in winter, which themselves feed on the few generalist plant structures available in winter. Thus, what was a bottom-up pulse, spread among many species in summer, including highly productive seasonal specialists, reverses into strong top-down regulation in winter that is top-heavy, and concentrated among a small number of generalist herbivores and their winter foods. Intermediate-sized, generalist herbivores that remain active and vulnerable to predation in winter are likely to be keystone species in seasonal food webs because they provide the essential ecosystem service of turning summer primary productivity into winter food for carnivores. Empirical examination of terrestrial mammals and their seasonal trophic status in the boreal forest and across an arctic-to-tropics seasonality gradient indicates seasonal specialization is more common among herbivores, small body sizes, and in regions with intermediate seasonality, than among carnivores, large body size, and regions where summers are very short or very long. Better understanding of food webs in seasonal environments, including their vulnerability and resilience to climate change, requires a multi-season perspective.
The Arctic climate is changing at an unprecedented rate. What consequences this may have on the Arctic marine ecosystem depends to a large degree on how its species will respond both directly to elevated temperatures and more indirectly through ecological interactions. But despite an alarming recent warming of the Arctic with accompanying sea ice loss, reports evaluating ecological impacts of climate change in the Arctic remain sparse. Here, based upon a large-scale field study, we present basic new knowledge regarding the life history traits for one of the most important species in the entire Arctic, the polar cod (Boreogadus saida). Furthermore, by comparing regions of contrasting climatic influence (domains), we present evidence as to how its growth and reproductive success is impaired in the warmer of the two domains. As the future Arctic is predicted to resemble today's Atlantic domains, we forecast changes in growth and life history characteristics of polar cod that will lead to alteration of its role as an Arctic keystone species. This will in turn affect community dynamics and energy transfer in the entire Arctic food chain.
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Climate change, habitat loss and fragmentation are major threats for populations and a challenge for individual behavior, interactions and survival. Predator-prey interactions are modified by climate processes. In the northern latitudes, strong seasonality is changing and the main predicted feature is shortening and instability of winter. Vole populations in the boreal Fennoscandia exhibit multiannual cycles. High amplitude peak numbers of voles and dramatic population lows alternate in 3-5-year cycles shortening from North to South. One key factor, or driver, promoting the population crash and causing extreme extended lows, is suggested to be predation by the least weasel. We review the arms race between prey voles and weasels through the multiannual density fluctuation, affected by climate change, and especially the changes in the duration and stability of snow cover. For ground-dwelling small mammals, snow provides thermoregulation and shelter for nest sites, and helps them hide from predators. Predicted increases in the instability of winter forms a major challenge for species with coat color change between brown summer camouflage and white winter coat. One of these is the least weasel, Mustela nivalis nivalis. Increased vulnerability of wrong-colored weasels to predation affects vole populations and may have dramatic effects on vole dynamics. It may have cascading effects on other small rodent-predator interactions and even on plant-animal interactions and forest dynamics.
Differences in bioaccumulation of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) between fjords characterized by different water masses were investigated by comparing POP concentrations, patterns and bioaccumulation factors (BAFs) in seven species of zooplankton from Liefdefjorden (Arctic water mass) and Kongsfjorden (Atlantic water mass), Svalbard, Norway. No difference in concentrations and patterns of POPs was observed in seawater and POM; however higher concentrations and BAFs for certain POPs were found in species of zooplankton from Kongsfjorden. The same species were sampled in both fjords and the differences in concentrations of POPs and BAFs were most likely due to fjord specific characteristics, such as ice cover and timing of snow/glacier melt. These confounding factors make it difficult to conclude on water mass (Arctic vs. Atlantic) specific differences and further to extrapolate these results to possible climate change effects on accumulation of POPs in zooplankton. The present study suggests that zooplankton do biomagnify POPs, which is important for understanding contaminant uptake and flux in zooplankton, though consciousness regarding the method of evaluation is important.
Seasonality in biomagnification of persistent organic pollutants (POPs; polychlorinated biphenyls, chlorinated pesticides, and brominated flame retardants) in Arctic marine pelagic food webs was investigated in Kongsfjorden, Svalbard, Norway. Trophic magnification factors (TMFs; average factor change in concentration between two trophic levels) were used to measure food web biomagnification in biota in May, July, and October 2007. Pelagic zooplankton (seven species), fish (five species), and seabirds (two species) were included in the study. For most POP compounds, highest TMFs were found in July and lowest were in May. Seasonally changing TMFs were a result of seasonally changing POP concentrations and the d¹5N-derived trophic positions of the species included in the food web. These seasonal differences in TMFs were independent of inclusion/exclusion of organisms based on physiology (i.e., warm- versus cold-blooded organisms) in the food web. The higher TMFs in July, when the food web consisted of a higher degree of boreal species, suggest that future warming of the Arctic and increased invasion by boreal species can result in increased food web magnification. Knowledge of the seasonal variation in POP biomagnification is a prerequisite for understanding changes in POP biomagnification caused by climate change.