How will climate change affect the interaction among species?
One of the largest uncertainties in understanding how climate change will affect wild populations is centered on species interactions. Species interactions (e.g. predation, competition, parasitism) can modify the effects of climate change, so it is necessary to study both processes if you want to know how biological communities will fare in the future. This question has been referred to as the “The Holy Grail” of climate change biology.
My approach has been to embrace organismal physiology as a key to understanding biological responses to climate change. In my recent work (Cheng et al. 2016; Functional Ecology), I examined how climate change stressors (e.g. warming and low salinity) may affect both native species (Olympia oysters; Ostrea lurida) and invasive species (eastern oyster drills; Urosalpinx cinerea and Japanese oyster drills; Ocinebrellus inornatus).
Here, we constructed sub-lethal thermal performance curves as well as calculated lethal responses to warming and low salinity to determine which species are most sensitive to environmental change. We then mapped these tolerances to field data from Tomales and San Francisco Bay. In this case, native oysters were most tolerant of extreme high temperatures, relative to their non-native predators (the oyster drills). However, climate change will not save the oysters, because warming first increases the oyster drill predation rate on oysters. Listen to my description of how bad death by oyster drill would be!