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Journal articleO'Gorman EJ, Zhao L, Pichler DE, et al., 2017,
Journal articleO'Gorman EJ, Ólafsson Ó, Demars BOL, et al., 2016,
Global warming is widely predicted to reduce the biomass production of top predators, or even result in species loss. Several exceptions to this expectation have been identified, however, and it is vital that we understand the underlying mechanisms if we are to improve our ability to predict future trends. Here, we used a natural warming experiment in Iceland and quantitative theoretical predictions to investigate the success of brown trout as top predators across a stream temperature gradient (4–25 °C). Brown trout are at the northern limit of their geographic distribution in this system, with ambient stream temperatures below their optimum for maximal growth, and above it in the warmest streams. A five-month mark-recapture study revealed that population abundance, biomass, growth rate, and production of trout all increased with stream temperature. We identified two mechanisms that contributed to these responses: (1) trout became more selective in their diet as stream temperature increased, feeding higher in the food web and increasing in trophic position; and (2) trophic transfer through the food web was more efficient in the warmer streams. We found little evidence to support a third potential mechanism: that external subsidies would play a more important role in the diet of trout with increasing stream temperature. Resource availability was also amplified through the trophic levels with warming, as predicted by metabolic theory in nutrient-replete systems. These results highlight circumstances in which top predators can thrive in warmer environments and contribute to our knowledge of warming impacts on natural communities and ecosystem functioning.
Journal articleO'Gorman EJ, Benstead JP, Cross WF, et al., 2014,
Climate change and geothermal ecosystems: natural laboratories, sentinel systems, and future refugia, Global Change Biology, Vol: 20, Pages: 3291-3299, ISSN: 1365-2486
Understanding and predicting how global warming affects the structure and functioning of natural ecosystems is a key challenge of the 21st century. Isolated laboratory and field experiments testing global change hypotheses have been criticized for being too small-scale and overly simplistic, whereas surveys are inferential and often confound temperature with other drivers. Research that utilizes natural thermal gradients offers a more promising approach and geothermal ecosystems in particular, which span a range of temperatures within a single biogeographic area, allow us to take the laboratory into nature rather than vice versa. By isolating temperature from other drivers, its ecological effects can be quantified without any loss of realism, and transient and equilibrial responses can be measured in the same system across scales that are not feasible using other empirical methods. Embedding manipulative experiments within geothermal gradients is an especially powerful approach, informing us to what extent small-scale experiments can predict the future behaviour of real ecosystems. Geothermal areas also act as sentinel systems by tracking responses of ecological networks to warming and helping to maintain ecosystem functioning in a changing landscape by providing sources of organisms that are preadapted to different climatic conditions. Here, we highlight the emerging use of geothermal systems in climate change research, identify novel research avenues, and assess their roles for catalysing our understanding of ecological and evolutionary responses to global warming.
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