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Climate Change, Keystone Predation, and Biodiversity Loss

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Science  25 Nov 2011:
Vol. 334, Issue 6059, pp. 1124-1127
DOI: 10.1126/science.1210199

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Abstract

Climate change can affect organisms both directly via physiological stress and indirectly via changing relationships among species. However, we do not fully understand how changing interspecific relationships contribute to community- and ecosystem-level responses to environmental forcing. I used experiments and spatial and temporal comparisons to demonstrate that warming substantially reduces predator-free space on rocky shores. The vertical extent of mussel beds decreased by 51% in 52 years, and reproductive populations of mussels disappeared at several sites. Prey species were able to occupy a hot, extralimital site if predation pressure was experimentally reduced, and local species richness more than doubled as a result. These results suggest that anthropogenic climate change can alter interspecific interactions and produce unexpected changes in species distributions, community structure, and diversity.

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