Climate change impacts in multispecies systems: drought alters food web size structure in a field experiment

Guy Woodward, Lee E. Brown, Francois K. Edwards, Lawrence N. Hudson, Alexander M. Milner, Daniel C. Reuman, Mark E. Ledger


Experimental data from intergenerational field manipulations of entire food webs are scarce, yet such approaches are essential for gauging impacts of environmental change in natural systems. We imposed 2 years of intermittent drought on stream channels in a replicated field trial, to measure food web responses to simulated climate change. Drought triggered widespread losses of species and links, with larger taxa and those that were rare for their size, many of which were predatory, being especially vulnerable. Many network properties, including size–scaling relationships within food chains, changed in response to drought. Other properties, such as connectance, were unaffected. These findings highlight the need for detailed experimental data from different organizational levels, from pairwise links to the entire food web. The loss of not only large species, but also those that were rare for their size, provides a newly refined way to gauge likely impacts that may be applied more generally to other systems and/or impacts.


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