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Keywords:

  • arthropod;
  • climate change;
  • Formicidae;
  • long-term ecological research;
  • open-top chamber;
  • warming experiment

Summary

1. Recent observations indicate that climatic change is altering biodiversity, and models suggest that the consequences of climate change will differ across latitude. However, long-term experimental field manipulations that directly test the predictions about organisms’ responses to climate change across latitude are lacking. Such experiments could provide a more mechanistic understanding of the consequences of climate change on ecological communities and subsequent changes in ecosystem processes, facilitating better predictions of the effects of future climate change.

2. This field experiment uses octagonal, 5-m-diameter (c. 22 m3) open-top chambers to simulate warming at northern (Harvard Forest, Massachusetts) and southern (Duke Forest, North Carolina) hardwood forest sites to determine the effects of warming on ant and other arthropod populations and communities near the edges of their ranges. Each site has 12 plots containing open-top chambers that manipulate air temperature incrementally from ambient to 6 °C above ambient. Because the focus of this study is on mobile, litter- and soil-dwelling arthropods, standard methods for warming chambers (e.g. soil-warming cables or infrared heaters applied to relatively small areas) were inappropriate and new technological approaches using hydronic heating and forced air movement were developed.

3. We monitor population dynamics, species composition, phenology and behaviour of ants and other arthropods occupying these experimental chambers. Microclimatic measurements in each chamber include the following: air temperature (three), soil temperatures (two each in organic and mineral soil), photosynthetically active radiation (PAR), relative humidity and soil moisture (one each). In two chambers, we are also measuring soil heat flux, associated soil temperatures at 2 and 6 cm and volumetric water content. To assess the composition, phenology and abundance of arthropod communities within the experiment, we use monthly pitfall trapping and annual Winkler sampling. We also census artificial and natural ant nests to monitor changes in ant colony size and productivity across the temperature treatments.

4. This experiment is a long-term ecological study that provides opportunities for collaborations across a broad spectrum of ecologists, including those studying biogeochemical, microbial and plant responses to warming. Future studies also may include implementation of multifactorial climate manipulations, examination of interactions across trophic levels and quantification of changes in ecosystem processes.