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The cascade impacts of climate change could threaten key ecological interactions

Fontúrbel, Francisco E., Lara, Antonio, Lobos, David, Little, Christian
Ecosphere 2018 v.9 no.12 pp. e02485
Santalales, animals, climate change, drought, ecological competition, ecosystems, flowers, fruits, mortality, plant available water, pollination, pollinators, rain forests, seed dispersal, summer
Climate change is triggering ecological responses all over the world as a result of frequent, prolonged droughts. It could also affect ecological interactions, particularly pollination and seed dispersal, which play a key role in plant reproduction. We used a tripartite interaction with a mistletoe, its pollinator and its disperser animals to gain insight into this issue. We studied flower and fruit production, and visitation rates during average (2012) and dry (2015) austral summers. Drought in our study area affected precipitation and soil water availability. Although pollinator visits did not significantly differ in these summers, during the dry summer flower and fruit production experienced an important decline, as did seed disperser visits. Also, mistletoe mortality increased from 12% in 2012 to 23% in 2015. This empirical evidence suggests that the cascade effects of climate change may indirectly be hindering ecological interactions in the Valdivian temperate rainforest ecosystem we studied. Long‐term research is essential to provide the knowledge necessary to understand how key ecological processes may be affected in a changing world.