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Linking phenological shifts to species interactions through size-mediated priority effects

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Summary

  1. Interannual variation in seasonal weather patterns causes shifts in the relative timing of phenological events of species within communities, but we currently lack a mechanistic understanding of how these phenological shifts affect species interactions. Identifying these mechanisms is critical to predicting how interannual variation affects populations and communities.
  2. Species' phenologies, particularly the timing of offspring arrival, play an important role in the annual cycles of community assembly. We hypothesize that shifts in relative arrival of offspring can alter interspecific interactions through a mechanism called size-mediated priority effects (SMPE), in which individuals that arrive earlier can grow to achieve a body size advantage over those that arrive later.
  3. In this study, we used an experimental approach to isolate and quantify the importance of SMPE for species interactions. Specifically, we simulated shifts in relative arrival of the nymphs of two dragonfly species to determine the consequences for their interactions as intraguild predators.
  4. We found that shifts in relative arrival altered not only predation strength but also the nature of predator–prey interactions. When arrival differences were great, SMPE allowed the early arriver to prey intensely upon the late arriver, causing exclusion of the late arriver from nearly all habitats. As arrival differences decreased, the early arriver's size advantage also decreased. When arrival differences were smallest, there was mutual predation, and the two species coexisted in similar abundances across habitats. Importantly, we also found a nonlinear scaling relationship between shifts in relative arrival and predation strength. Specifically, small shifts in relative arrival caused large changes in predation strength while subsequent changes had relatively minor effects.
  5. These results demonstrate that SMPE can alter not only the outcome of interactions but also the demographic rates of species and the structure of communities. Elucidating the mechanisms that link phenological shifts to species interactions is crucial for understanding the dynamics of seasonal communities as well as for predicting the effects of climate change on these communities.
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