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Climate change enhances the negative effects of predation risk on an intermediate consumer

Authors

  • Luke P. Miller,

    1. Department of Marine and Environmental Sciences and the Marine Science Center, Northeastern University, Nahant, MA, USA
    Current affiliation:
    1. Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford University, Pacific Grove, CA, USA
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  • Catherine M. Matassa,

    1. Department of Marine and Environmental Sciences and the Marine Science Center, Northeastern University, Nahant, MA, USA
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  • Geoffrey C. Trussell

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Marine and Environmental Sciences and the Marine Science Center, Northeastern University, Nahant, MA, USA
    • Correspondence: Geoffrey C. Trussell, tel. + 781 581 7370 (ext. 300), fax + 781 581 6076, e-mail: g.trussell@neu.edu

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Abstract

Predators are a major source of stress in natural systems because their prey must balance the benefits of feeding with the risk of being eaten. Although this ‘fear’ of being eaten often drives the organization and dynamics of many natural systems, we know little about how such risk effects will be altered by climate change. Here, we examined the interactive consequences of predator avoidance and projected climate warming in a three-level rocky intertidal food chain. We found that both predation risk and increased air and sea temperatures suppressed the foraging of prey in the middle trophic level, suggesting that warming may further enhance the top-down control of predators on communities. Prey growth efficiency, which measures the efficiency of energy transfer between trophic levels, became negative when prey were subjected to predation risk and warming. Thus, the combined effects of these stressors may represent an important tipping point for individual fitness and the efficiency of energy transfer in natural food chains. In contrast, we detected no adverse effects of warming on the top predator and the basal resources. Hence, the consequences of projected warming may be particularly challenging for intermediate consumers residing in food chains where risk dominates predator-prey interactions.

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