The ecology of the willow warbler in the north of Western Siberia is considered, and the adaptations that enable the spread of this species to the Subarctic are analyzed. It is established that one of the key factors that caused the change in the range of this species is the northward distribution of shrubs and, hence, the biomass of insects (available food items of these birds).
The alternative prey hypothesis predicts that the interaction between generalist predators and their main prey is a major driver of population dynamics of alternative prey species. In Fennoscandia, changes in climate and human land use are assumed to alter the dynamics of cyclic small rodents (main prey) and lead to increased densities and range expansion of an important generalist predator, the red fox Vulpes vulpes. In order to better understand the role of these potential changes in community structure on an alternative prey species, willow ptarmigan Lagopus lagopus, we analyzed nine years of population census data from SE Norway to investigate how community interactions affected their population dynamics. The ptarmigan populations showed no declining trend during the study period, and annual variations corresponded with marked periodic small rodent peaks and declines. Population growth and breeding success were highly correlated, and both demographic variables were influenced by an interaction between red fox and small rodents. Red foxes affected ptarmigan negatively only when small rodent abundance was low, which is in accordance with the alternative prey hypothesis. Our results confirm the important role of red fox predation in ptarmigan dynamics, and indicate that if small rodent cycles are disrupted, this may lead to decline in ptarmigan and other alternative prey species due to elevated predation pressure.
Recently, there have been several studies using open top chambers (OTCs) or cloches to examine the response of Arctic plant communities to artificially elevated temperatures. Few, however, have investigated multitrophic systems, or the effects of both temperature and vertebrate grazing treatments on invertebrates. This study investigated trophic interactions between an herbivorous insect (Sitobion calvulum, Aphididae), a woody perennial host plant (Salix polaris) and a selective vertebrate grazer (barnacle geese, Branta leucopsis). In a factorial experiment, the responses of the insect and its host to elevated temperatures using open top chambers (OTCs) and to three levels of goose grazing pressure were assessed over two summer growing seasons (2004 and 2005). OTCs significantly enhanced the leaf phenology of Salix in both years and there was a significant OTC by goose presence interaction in 2004. Salix leaf number was unaffected by treatments in both years, but OTCs increased leaf size and mass in 2005. Salix reproduction and the phenology of flowers were unaffected by both treatments. Aphid densities were increased by OTCs but unaffected by goose presence in both years. While goose presence had little effect on aphid density or host plant phenology in this system, the OTC effects provide interesting insights into the possibility of phenological synchrony disruption. The advanced phenology of Salix effectively lengthens the growing season for the plant, but despite a close association with leaf maturity, the population dynamics of the aphid appeared to lack a similar phenological response, except for the increased population observed.
Since the 1980s, Swedish lakes have in general become less acidified. Assessment of biological recovery is, however, hampered by poor pre-acidification data, confounding effects of climate change, and few lakes with annual sampling of fish and other organisms. Only three critically acidified, but non-limed, lakes had two decades of fish monitoring. The lakes had not yet recovered to pre-industrial chemical targets. Fish had low species richness compared to other organism groups. Roach (Rutilus rutilus) and/or European perch (Perca fluviatilis) were the dominant fish species, and the acid-sensitive roach had been lost from one of the lakes. Calcium decreased, possibly approaching pre-acidification concentrations, but exceeded minimum levels needed to sustain some Daphnia species. High or increasing levels of total organic carbon, likely due to reduced acidification and climate change, might influence the biological communities in unexpected ways, for example, facilitating more frequent occurrence of the invasive algae Gonyostomum semen.
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Apex predators may buffer bottom-up driven ecosystem change, as top-down suppression may dampen herbivore and mesopredator responses to increased resource availability. However, theory suggests that for this buffering capacity to be realized, the equilibrium abundance of apex predators must increase. This raises the question: will apex predators maintain herbivore/mesopredator limitation, if bottom-up change relaxes resource constraints? Here, we explore changes in mesopredator (red fox Vulpes vulpes) abundance over 220 years in response to eradication and recovery of an apex predator (Eurasian lynx Lynx lynx), and changes in land use and climate which are linked to resource availability. A three-step approach was used. First, recent data from Finland and Sweden were modelled to estimate linear effects of lynx density, land use and winter temperature on fox density. Second, lynx density, land use and winter temperature was estimated in a 22 650 km(2) focal area in boreal and boreo-nemoral Sweden in the years 1830, 1920, 2010 and 2050. Third, the models and estimates were used to project historic and future fox densities in the focal area. Projected fox density was lowest in 1830 when lynx density was high, winters cold and the proportion of cropland low. Fox density peaked in 1920 due to lynx eradication, a mesopredator release boosted by favourable bottom-up changes - milder winters and cropland expansion. By 2010, lynx recolonization had reduced fox density, but it remained higher than in 1830, partly due to the bottom-up changes. Comparing 1830 to 2010, the contribution of top-down limitation decreased, while environment enrichment relaxed bottom-up limitation. Future scenarios indicated that by 2050, lynx density would have to increase by 79% to compensate for a projected climate-driven increase in fox density. We highlight that although top-down limitation in theory can buffer bottom-up change, this requires compensatory changes in apex predator abundance. Hence apex predator recolonization/recovery to historical levels would not be sufficient to compensate for widespread changes in climate and land use, which have relaxed the resource constraints for many herbivores and mesopredators. Variation in bottom-up conditions may also contribute to context dependence in apex predator effects.
The polar bear (Ursus maritimus) depends on sea ice for feeding, breeding, and movement. Significant reductions in Arctic sea ice are forecast to continue because of climate warming. We evaluated the impacts of climate change on polar bears in the southern Beaufort Sea by means of a demographic analysis, combining deterministic, stochastic, environment-dependent matrix population models with forecasts of future sea ice conditions from IPCC general circulation models (GCMs). The matrix population models classified individuals by age and breeding status; mothers and dependent cubs were treated as units. Parameter estimates were obtained from a capture-recapture study conducted from 2001 to 2006. Candidate statistical models allowed vital rates to vary with time and as functions of a sea ice covariate. Model averaging was used to produce the vital rate estimates, and a parametric bootstrap procedure was used to quantify model selection and parameter estimation uncertainty. Deterministic models projected population growth in years with more extensive ice coverage (2001-2003) and population decline in years with less ice coverage (2004-2005). LTRE (life table response experiment) analysis showed that the reduction in lambda in years with low sea ice was due primarily to reduced adult female survival, and secondarily to reduced breeding. A stochastic model with two environmental states, good and poor sea ice conditions, projected a declining stochastic growth rate, log lambdas, as the frequency of poor ice years increased. The observed frequency of poor ice years since 1979 would imply log lambdas approximately - 0.01, which agrees with available (albeit crude) observations of population size. The stochastic model was linked to a set of 10 GCMs compiled by the IPCC; the models were chosen for their ability to reproduce historical observations of sea ice and were forced with "business as usual" (A1B) greenhouse gas emissions. The resulting stochastic population projections showed drastic declines in the polar bear population by the end of the 21st century. These projections were instrumental in the decision to list the polar bear as a threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
Changes in climate are influencing the distribution and abundance of the world's biota, with significant consequences for biological diversity and ecosystem processes. Recent work has raised concern that populations of moths and butterflies (Lepidoptera) may be particularly susceptible to population declines under environmental change. Moreover, effects of climate change may be especially pronounced in high latitude ecosystems. Here, we examine population dynamics in an assemblage of subarctic forest moths in Finnish Lapland to assess current trajectories of population change. Moth counts were made continuously over a period of 32?years using light traps. From 456 species recorded, 80 were sufficiently abundant for detailed analyses of their population dynamics. Climate records indicated rapid increases in temperature and winter precipitation at our study site during the sampling period. However, 90% of moth populations were stable (57%) or increasing (33%) over the same period of study. Nonetheless, current population trends do not appear to reflect positive responses to climate change. Rather, time-series models illustrated that the per capita rates of change of moth species were more frequently associated negatively than positively with climate change variables, even as their populations were increasing. For example, the per capita rates of change of 35% of microlepidoptera were associated negatively with climate change variables. Moth life-history traits were not generally strong predictors of current population change or associations with climate change variables. However, 60% of moth species that fed as larvae on resources other than living vascular plants (e.g. litter, lichen, mosses) were associated negatively with climate change variables in time-series models, suggesting that such species may be particularly vulnerable to climate change. Overall, populations of subarctic forest moths in Finland are performing better than expected, and their populations appear buffered at present from potential deleterious effects of climate change by other ecological forces.
Identifying the internal and external drivers of population dynamics is a key objective in ecology, currently accentuated by the need to forecast the effects of climate change on species distributions and abundances. The interplay between environmental and density effects is one particularly important aspect of such forecasts. We examined the simultaneous impact of climate and intraspecific density on vital rates of the dwarf shrub Fumana procumbens over 20 yr, using generalized additive mixed models. We then analyzed effects on population dynamics using integral projection models. The population projection models accurately captured observed fluctuations in population size. Our analyses suggested the population was intrinsically regulated but with annual fluctuations in response to variation in weather. Simulations showed that implicitly assuming variation in demographic rates to be driven solely by the environment can overestimate extinction risks if there is density dependence. We conclude that density regulation can dampen effects of climate change on Fumana population size, and discuss the need to quantify density dependence in predictions of population responses to environmental changes.
Rapid warming and changes in water availability at high latitudes alter resource abundance, tree competition, and disturbance regimes. While these changes are expected to disrupt the functioning of boreal forests, their ultimate implications for forest composition are uncertain. In particular, recent site-level studies of the Alaskan boreal forest have reported both increases and decreases in productivity over the past few decades. Here, we test the idea that variations in Alaskan forest growth and mortality rates are contingent on species composition. Using forest inventory measurements and climate data from plots located throughout interior and south-central Alaska, we show significant growth and mortality responses associated with competition, midsummer vapor pressure deficit, and increased growing season length. The governing climate and competition processes differed substantially across species. Surprisingly, the most dramatic climate response occurred in the drought tolerant angiosperm species, trembling aspen, and linked high midsummer vapor pressure deficits to decreased growth and increased insect-related mortality. Given that species composition in the Alaskan and western Canadian boreal forests is projected to shift toward early-successional angiosperm species due to fire regime, these results underscore the potential for a reduction in boreal productivity stemming from increases in midsummer evaporative demand.