Erosion of community diversity and stability by herbivore removal under warming

Eric Post

Abstract

Climate change has the potential to influence the persistence of ecological communities by altering their stability properties. One of the major drivers of community stability is species diversity, which is itself expected to be altered by climate change in many systems. The extent to which climatic effects on community stability may be buffered by the influence of species interactions on diversity is, however, poorly understood because of a paucity of studies incorporating interactions between abiotic and biotic factors. Here, I report results of a 10-year field experiment, the past 7 years of which have focused on effects of ongoing warming and herbivore removal on diversity and stability within the plant community, where competitive species interactions are mediated by exploitation through herbivory. Across the entire plant community, stability increased with diversity, but both stability and diversity were reduced by herbivore removal, warming and their interaction. Within the most species-rich functional group in the community, forbs, warming reduced species diversity, and both warming and herbivore removal reduced the strength of the relationship between diversity and stability. Species interactions, such as exploitation, may thus buffer communities against destabilizing influences of climate change, and intact populations of large herbivores, in particular, may prove important in maintaining and promoting plant community diversity and stability in a changing climate.

  • Received November 16, 2012.
  • Accepted January 23, 2013.
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