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Ecological non-equilibrium in the Anthropocene

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Front. Ecol. Evol. | doi: 10.3389/fevo.2018.00186

Empirical predictability of community responses to climate change

 Pierre Gaüzère1*, Lars L. Iversen1, 2,  Jean-Yves Barnagaud3, Jens-Christian Svenning4, 5 and Benjamin Blonder1
  • 1School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University, United States
  • 2Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate, Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
  • 3UMR5175 Centre d'Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive (CEFE), France
  • 4Center for Biodiversity Dynamics in a Changing World, Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University, Denmark
  • 5Ecoinformatics and Biodiversity, Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University, Denmark

Robust predictions of ecosystem responses to climate change are challenging. To achieve such predictions, ecology has extensively relied on the assumption that community states and dynamics are at equilibrium with climate. However, empirical evidence from Quaternary and contemporary data suggest that species communities rarely follow equilibrium dynamics with climate change. This discrepancy between the conceptual foundation of many predictive models and observed community dynamics casts doubts on our ability to successfully predict future community states. Here we used community response diagrams to empirically investigate the occurrence of different classes of disequilibrium responses in plant communities during the Late Quaternary, and bird communities during modern climate warming in North America. We documented a large variability in types of responses, suggesting that equilibrium dynamics are not the most common type of response to climate change. Bird responses appeared less predictable to modern climate warming than plant responses to Late Quaternary climate warming. Furthermore, we showed that baseline climate gradients were a strong predictor of disequilibrium states, while ecological factors such as species’ traits had a substantial, but inconsistent effect on the deviation from equilibrium. We conclude that (1) complex temporal community dynamics including stochastic responses, lags, and alternate states are common; (2) assuming equilibrium dynamics to predict biodiversity responses to future climate changes may lead to unsuccessful predictions

Keywords: Predictive ecology, anthropocene, Holocene, Plants, Birds, Lagged responses, Global changes and biodiversity

Received: 12 Jul 2018; Accepted: 26 Oct 2018.

Edited by:

Giovanni Rapacciuolo, University of California, Merced, United States

Reviewed by:

Marta A. Jarzyna, The Ohio State University, United States
Juan E. Guevara Andino, Field Museum of Natural History, United States  

Copyright: © 2018 Gaüzère, Iversen, Barnagaud, Svenning and Blonder. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Pierre Gaüzère, School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University, Tempe, 874601, Arizona, United States,