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Multi‐scale responses to warming in an experimental insect metacommunity

Grainger, Tess Nahanni, Gilbert, Benjamin
Global change biology 2017 v.23 no.12 pp. 5151-5163
Apocynaceae, biodiversity, climate change, drawdown, habitats, herbivores, insects, risk
In metacommunities, diversity is the product of species interactions at the local scale and dispersal between habitat patches at the regional scale. Although warming can alter both species interactions and dispersal, the combined effects of warming on these two processes remains uncertain. To determine the independent and interactive effects of warming‐induced changes to local species interactions and dispersal, we constructed experimental metacommunities consisting of enclosed milkweed patches seeded with five herbivorous milkweed specialist insect species. We treated metacommunities with two levels of warming (unwarmed and warmed) and three levels of connectivity (isolated, low connectivity, high connectivity). Based on metabolic theory, we predicted that if plant resources were limited, warming would accelerate resource drawdown, causing local insect declines and increasing both insect dispersal and the importance of connectivity to neighboring patches for insect persistence. Conversely, given abundant resources, warming could have positive local effects on insects, and the risk of traversing a corridor to reach a neighboring patch could outweigh the benefits of additional resources. We found support for the latter scenario. Neither resource drawdown nor the weak insect‐insect associations in our system were affected by warming, and most insect species did better locally in warmed conditions and had dispersal responses that were unchanged or indirectly affected by warming. Dispersal across the matrix posed a species‐specific risk that led to declines in two species in connected metacommunities. Combined, this scaled up to cause an interactive effect of warming and connectivity on diversity, with unwarmed metacommunities with low connectivity incurring the most rapid declines in diversity. Overall, this study demonstrates the importance of integrating the complex outcomes of species interactions and spatial structure in understanding community response to climate change.