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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Community structure and availability of edible primary producers to herbivores along a temperature gradient Caulk, Natalie Catherine


Warming can influence the rate of plant-herbivore interactions through direct effects on individual metabolism, resource use, and growth rates, and via indirect effects on the properties of plant resources and behavior of consumers. Through these processes, temperature can affect the structure and function of food webs, though whether these overall responses reflect primarily direct or indirect effects of temperature is unclear. To begin to address this problem, I quantified the effects of temperature and grazing on primary producer traits and relative abundance to understand how temperature directly and indirectly affects an important aspect of food webs: resource availability to herbivores. I hypothesized that warming would decrease the availability of edible resources to consumers through decreased abundance, body size and shifts among dominant functional groups, and that these effects would be strengthened in the presence of consumers. I tested this hypothesis in freshwater algal-grazer communities maintained across an 11°C temperature gradient over 11 weeks. I observed direct, positive effects of temperature on whole-system oxygen fluxes (i.e. through net primary productivity and ecosystem respiration), and direct negative effects on phytoplankton abundance and body size, with higher relative abundance of small phytoplankton. Herbivores drove shifts in phytoplankton size distributions across the temperature gradient through size-selective consumption of large phytoplankton. Warming shifted species composition among algae from plankton-dominated to periphyton-dominated assemblages, consistent with indirect effects of warming on competitive interactions. Taken together, shifts in abundance, body size and functional group dominance over the temperature gradient decreased the availability of preferred plant resources to filter-feeding zooplankton at warmer temperatures, which may alter food web structure and function, especially under increased grazing pressure. I conclude that resource-availability shifts are predictable with warming, and that temperature-dependent community theory can be expanded to include these indirect effects of temperature on species interactions.

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