Temperature is a key driver of ecological processes and patterns. The ramifications of temperature for ecological communities include not only its direct effects on the physiology of individuals, but also how these effects play out in the context of other processes such as competition.
Apparently idiosyncratic or difficult to predict effects of temperature on competitive outcomes are well represented in the literature. General theoretical understanding of how physiological influences of temperature filter through community dynamics to determine outcomes is limited.
We present a theoretical framework for predicting the effects of temperature on competition among species, based on understanding the effects of temperature on the physiological and population parameters of the species. The approach helps unify formal resource competition theory with metabolic and physiological ecology.
Phytoplankton and many other ectotherms are smaller at higher temperatures. This has been observed experimentally, across geographical gradients, and as change accompanying climate warming, but it has not been explained in terms of competition. As a case study, we apply our theoretical framework to competition for nutrients among differently sized phytoplankton.
Based on this analysis, we hypothesize that the prevalence of smaller phytoplankton at higher temperatures is at least partly due to an accentuated competitive advantage of smaller cells at higher temperatures with respect to nutrient uptake and growth. We examine the scope for extending the approach to understand resource competition, generally, among ectotherms of different sizes.