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Effect of climate change on biotic interactions

Climate change is one of the greatest threats to the biodiversity of our planet and affects all biomes, resulting in habitat loss, overexploitation of natural resources, and the spread of invasive species and disease. An EU-funded initiative therefore investigated how a changing global climate may affect biotic interactions and their impact on biodiversity.
Effect of climate change on biotic interactions
One of the greatest challenges now facing ecologists is to predict how natural communities will cope with changes caused by an altered climate. Scientists have therefore created computer models to predict changes in the distribution of species, communities and phylogenetic diversity. But, most predictive models do not take into account biotic interactions and are unable to accurately predict how natural communities will respond.

Nevertheless, biotic interactions – such as predation, competition, and the relationship between parasite and host – have been shown to affect the large-scale distribution of species, thereby influencing their ability to cope with climate change. Therefore, the EU-funded FORECOMM (Forecasting community-level responses to global change) project was established to address this gap in the scientific knowledge.

Researchers used a modelling framework to integrate existing data on climate change, species distributions, community composition and biotic interactions. The model contributed to the development of a conceptual framework for determining the most important biotic interactions among a community of species in a given region. This enabled food webs to be determined by integrating different data sources.

A long-term data set on lake communities in the Azores archipelago was used to test whether individual species and trophic groups respond concordantly to biogeographic and environmental gradients. FORECOMM found that spatial concordance in individual species distributions within trophic groups was always greater than could be expected by chance.

FORECOMM helped to improve the modelling of environmental change and how biodiversity accounts for individual responses to change. This has led to a new understanding of how ecological communities will respond to a changing world. The project also supports the long-standing idea that communities can be modelled as a cohort if the functional resolution is appropriate. In the future this work will be used to develop forecasts for community-level responses to environmental change.

Related information

Keywords

Climate change, biotic interactions, biodiversity, FORECOMM, trophic groups
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