The impact of climate change on ecological networks

Ecological interaction communities are likely to handle animal extinctions better than plant extinctions

GBIF-mediated data resources used : 403,277 species occurrences
Drone fly (Eristalis tenax)

Drone fly (Eristalis tenax) by inasiebert. Photo licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0.

Climate change can force species to either adapt or move, and many studies have modelled the impact of warming climates on individual species. Ecological communities, however, consists of networks of interacting species, and understanding the impact on entire ecological interaction networks is important.

Combining species distribution models based on GBIF-mediated occurrences with ecological network analyses, researchers examined the impact of climate change on more than 700 plant and animal species in pollination and seed dispersal networks in Central Europe. They also tested the hypothesis that species with narrow niches and projected losses in climatic suitability are specialist species with few biotic partners.

Their results show that the breadth of animal climatic niches is correlated with number of plant partners, however, not vice versa. Animals projected to lose climatic suitability have low diversity in plant partners, indicating that pollinators and seed dispersers with fewer plants interactions are particularly vulnerable to climate change.

Schleuning M, Fründ J, Schweiger O, Welk E, Albrecht J, Albrecht M, Beil M, Benadi G, Blüthgen N, Bruelheide H, Böhning-Gaese K, Dehling DM, Dormann CF, Exeler N, Farwig N, Harpke A, Hickler T, Kratochwil A, Kuhlmann M, Kühn I, Michez D, Mudri-Stojnić S, Plein M, Rasmont P, Schwabe A, Settele J, Vujić A, Weiner CN, Wiemers M and Hof C (2016) Ecological networks are more sensitive to plant than to animal extinction under climate change. Nature Communications. Springer Nature 7: 13965. Available at: