Dr Samraat Pawar, Lecturer in Grand Challenges, Department of Life Sciences, Imperial College London.
Predicting how changes to average temperatures affect ecosystem dynamics is vitally important. Species interactions, such as those between predators and prey or pathogens and hosts, affect the stability and functioning of ecosystems, as well as rates of disease spread. Over 99% of species on earth are ectothermic, or “cold blooded”, which means that the temperature of their environment directly affects their metabolic rate. This includes all invertebrates, fish, amphibians, and reptiles, but not mammals and birds. Changes in a climate’s temperature range therefore can affect practically all species interactions. We are studying the impacts of temperature changes on species interactions using large datasets and mathematical modelling. One key result from our recent work is that the impact of warming is likely to be amplified when interacting species pairs differ in the way they respond to temperature. For example, the spread of malaria strongly depends upon the interaction between the Mosquito vector and the parasite Plasmodium. The temperature at which disease transmission peaks depends upon how different the preferred temperatures of the two organisms are.