The interacting effects of temperature and food chain length on trophic abundance and ecosystem function


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1. While much is known about the independent effects of trophic structure and temperature on density and ecosystem processes, less is known about the interaction(s) between the two.

2. We manipulated the temperature of laboratory-based bacteria-protist communities that contained communities with one, two, or three trophic levels, and recorded species’ densities and bacterial decomposition.

3. Temperature, food chain length and their interaction produced significant responses in microbial density and bacterial decomposition. Prey and resource density expressed different patterns of temperature dependency during different phases of population dynamics. The addition of a predator altered the temperature-density relationship of prey, from a unimodal trend to a negative one. Bacterial decomposition was greatest in the presence of consumers at higher temperatures.

4. These results are qualitatively consistent with a recent model of direct and indirect temperature effects on resource-consumer population dynamics. Results highlight and reinforce the importance of indirect effects of temperature mediated through trophic interactions. Understanding and predicting the consequences of environmental change will require that indirect effects, trophic structure, and individual species’ tolerances be incorporated into theory and models.