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Warming alters community size structure and ecosystem functioning

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

  • Matteo Dossena
  • Gabriel Yvon-Durocher
  • Jonathan Grey
  • José M Montoya
  • Daniel M Perkins
  • Mark Trimmer
  • Guy Woodward
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>08/2012
<mark>Journal</mark>Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1740
Number of pages9
Pages (from-to)3011-3019
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date26/06/12
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Global warming can affect all levels of biological complexity, though we currently understand least about its potential impact on communities and ecosystems. At the ecosystem level, warming has the capacity to alter the structure of communities and the rates of key ecosystem processes they mediate. Here we assessed the effects of a 4°C rise in temperature on the size structure and taxonomic composition of benthic communities in aquatic mesocosms, and the rates of detrital decomposition they mediated. Warming had no effect on biodiversity, but altered community size structure in two ways. In spring, warmer systems exhibited steeper size spectra driven by declines in total community biomass and the proportion of large organisms. By contrast, in autumn, warmer systems had shallower size spectra driven by elevated total community biomass and a greater proportion of large organisms. Community-level shifts were mirrored by changes in decomposition rates. Temperature-corrected microbial and macrofaunal decomposition rates reflected the shifts in community structure and were strongly correlated with biomass across mesocosms. Our study demonstrates that the 4°C rise in temperature expected by the end of the century has the potential to alter the structure and functioning of aquatic ecosystems profoundly, as well as the intimate linkages between these levels of ecological organization.