Monday, 22 October 2018

Climate warming drives collapse of the rainforest’s food web

Source: "Climate-driven declines in arthropod abundance restructure a rainforest food web", PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America), PNAS published ahead of print October 15, 2018;; Bradford C. Lister and Andres Garcia. Edited by Nils Christian Stenseth, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway, and approved September 10, 2018 (received for review January 8, 2018)


Arthropods, invertebrates including insects that have external skeletons, are declining at an alarming rate. While the tropics harbor the majority of arthropod species, little is known about trends in their abundance. We compared arthropod biomass in Puerto Rico’s Luquillo rainforest with data taken during the 1970s and found that biomass had fallen 10 to 60 times. Our analyses revealed synchronous declines in the lizards, frogs, and birds that eat arthropods. Over the past 30 years, forest temperatures have risen 2.0 °C, and our study indicates that climate warming is the driving force behind the collapse of the forest’s food web. If supported by further research, the impact of climate change on tropical ecosystems may be much greater than currently anticipated.


A number of studies indicate that tropical arthropods should be particularly vulnerable to climate warming. If these predictions are realized, climate warming may have a more profound impact on the functioning and diversity of tropical forests than currently anticipated. Although arthropods comprise over two-thirds of terrestrial species, information on their abundance and extinction rates in tropical habitats is severely limited. Here we analyze data on arthropod and insectivore abundances taken between 1976 and 2012 at two midelevation habitats in Puerto Rico’s Luquillo rainforest. During this time, mean maximum temperatures have risen by 2.0 °C. Using the same study area and methods employed by Lister in the 1970s, we discovered that the dry weight biomass of arthropods captured in sweep samples had declined 4 to 8 times, and 30 to 60 times in sticky traps. Analysis of long-term data on canopy arthropods and walking sticks taken as part of the Luquillo Long-Term Ecological Research program revealed sustained declines in abundance over two decades, as well as negative regressions of abundance on mean maximum temperatures. We also document parallel decreases in Luquillo’s insectivorous lizards, frogs, and birds. While El Niño/Southern Oscillation influences the abundance of forest arthropods, climate warming is the major driver of reductions in arthropod abundance, indirectly precipitating a bottom-up trophic cascade and consequent collapse of the forest food web.

Fig. 3.: Comparison of total dry-weight biomass for the major arthropod taxa captured in sweep samples taken during the summer (A, C, and E) and winter (B, D, and F) seasons 1976–1977 and 2011–2013, within the same Luquillo forest study area. Arn, Areneida; Col, Coleoptera; Dip, Diptera; For, Formicidae; Hem, Hemiptera; Hom, Homoptera; Hym, other Hymenoptera; La, Lepidoptera adults; LI, Lepidoptera larvae; Ort, Orthoptera.

Fig. 6.: Comparison of anoles censuses conducted in the same Luquillo rainforest study area during July 1976 and January 1977, with censuses conducted during July 2011 and January 2012. The total number of anoles in each census, estimated by the Schnabel multiple capture–recapture method (27), is given above each histobar. Brown represents male and female A. gundlachi. Green represents A. evermanni. Gray represents A. stratulus. SI Appendix, Table S1 gives the 95% confidence intervals around estimated abundances for A. gundlachi and A. evermanni.