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Herbivore populations will go down as temperatures go up

Date:
October 4, 2011
Source:
University of Toronto
Summary:
As climate change causes temperatures to rise, the number of herbivores will decrease, affecting the human food supply, according to new research.

If predictions are right, global warming will cause large shifts in food chains with consequences for global food security and species conservation.
Credit: Image courtesy of University of Toronto

As climate change causes temperatures to rise, the number of herbivores will decrease, affecting the human food supply, according to new research from the University of Toronto.

In a paper being published this month in American Naturalist, a team of ecologists describe how differences in the general responses of plants and herbivores to temperature change produces predictable declines in herbivore populations. This decrease occurs because herbivores grow more quickly at high temperatures than plants do, and as a result the herbivores run out of food.

"If warmer temperatures decrease zooplankton in the ocean, as predicted by our study, this will ultimately lead to less food for fish and less seafood for humans," says co-author Benjamin Gilbert of U of T's ecology and evolutionary biology department.

Several studies have shown how the metabolic rates of plants or animals change with temperature. Gilbert and his colleagues incorporated these rates into commonly-used, mathematical models of plants and herbivores to predict how the abundance of each should change with warming. They then compared their predictions to the results from an experimental study in which phytoplankton and zooplankton populations in tanks of water shifted significantly with changes in water temperature.

Gilbert cautions that long-term tests are required. Nevertheless, if their predictions are right, global warming will cause large shifts in food chains with consequences for global food security and species conservation.

The paper entitled "Theoretical predictions for how temperature affects the dynamics of interacting herbivores and plants" was written by co-authors Gilbert and Mary O'Connor with Chris Brown of the University of Queensland.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Toronto. The original article was written by Jessica Lewis. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Toronto. "Herbivore populations will go down as temperatures go up." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 October 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111004123826.htm>.
University of Toronto. (2011, October 4). Herbivore populations will go down as temperatures go up. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111004123826.htm
University of Toronto. "Herbivore populations will go down as temperatures go up." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111004123826.htm (accessed July 31, 2014).

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