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Increased body size along urbanization gradients at both community and intraspecific level in macro‐moths

Merckx, Thomas, Kaiser, Aurélien, Van Dyck, Hans
Global change biology 2018 v.24 no.8 pp. 3837-3848
body size, food webs, habitat fragmentation, habitats, insects, landscapes, phenotype, phenotypic plasticity, pollination, terrestrial ecosystems, urban areas, urbanization, woodlands
Urbanization involves a cocktail of human‐induced rapid environmental changes and is forecasted to gain further importance. Urban‐heat‐island effects result in increased metabolic costs expected to drive shifts towards smaller body sizes. However, urban environments are also characterized by strong habitat fragmentation, often selecting for dispersal phenotypes. Here, we investigate to what extent, and at which spatial scale(s), urbanization drives body size shifts in macro‐moths—an insect group characterized by positive size‐dispersal links—at both the community and intraspecific level. Using light and bait trapping as part of a replicated, spatially nested sampling design, we show that despite the observed urban warming of their woodland habitat, macro‐moth communities display considerable increases in community‐weighted mean body size because of stronger filtering against small species along urbanization gradients. Urbanization drives intraspecific shifts towards increased body size too, at least for a third of species analysed. These results indicate that urbanization drives shifts towards larger, and hence, more mobile species and individuals in order to mitigate low connectivity of ecological resources in urban settings. Macro‐moths are a key group within terrestrial ecosystems, and since body size is central to species interactions, such urbanization‐driven phenotypic change may impact urban ecosystem functioning, especially in terms of nocturnal pollination and food web dynamics. Although we show that urbanization's size‐biased filtering happens simultaneously and coherently at both the inter‐ and intraspecific level, we demonstrate that the impact at the community level is most pronounced at the 800 m radius scale, whereas species‐specific size increases happen at local and landscape scales (50–3,200 m radius), depending on the species. Hence, measures—such as creating and improving urban green infrastructure—to mitigate the effects of urbanization on body size will have to be implemented at multiple spatial scales in order to be most effective.