Warming alters predator-prey interactions in the Arctic

Wolf spiders are so abundant that they outweigh real wolves in the Alaskan Arctic by several orders of magnitude. Their sheer numbers make them one of the important predators on the tundra. They may also be important in buffering some effects of climate change.

Under warming conditions, arctic wolf spiders’ tastes in prey might be changing, according to new research from Washington University in St. Louis, initiating a new cascade of food web interactions that could potentially alleviate some impacts of global warming.

The surprising result of this chain reaction is described in a new paper by Amanda Koltz, a postdoctoral researcher in biology in Arts & Sciences, published July 23 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The ways in which animals interact with each other will be affected by climate change, scientists generally agree. But few studies have explored the larger picture of how these changes will alter not just individual species, but concurrently impact all of the biological and physical interactions in a given environment.

“We often think about how warmer temperatures might strengthen or weaken interactions between predators and their prey,” Koltz said. “But in this case we show that when warming alters those interactions, it can also lead to changes in ecosystem-level processes like decomposition rates.”

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