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Exploring the combined effects of climatic warming and habitat fragmentation on biodiversity

Exploring the combined effects of climatic warming and habitat fragmentation on biodiversity
José M. Montoya received an ERC Consolidator Grant in December 2016. Taking the opportunity of the launch of the project on first June, 2017, José explains to us the ins and outs of the FRAGLIM Project.

Climatic warming and habitat fragmentation are the largest threats to biodiversity and ecosystems globally. To forecast and mitigate their effects is the environmental challenge of our age. However, there is a fundamental gap in our understanding and prediction of their combined effects. SETE researchers aim at establishing the individual and combined effects of climatic warming and habitat fragmentation on biodiversity, community dynamics, and ecosystem functioning in complex multitrophic communities.

Funding an 8 people team for 5 years

These funds allow JMT to increase the size of his research group, recruiting 8 people: 4 post-docs, 2 PhD students, 1 technician and 1 administrative assistant. Three more people joined as collaborators: Bart Haegeman and Simon Blanchet from SETE, and Gabriel Yvon-Durocher, from the University of Exeter (UK). The project aims at combining the development of new theory and models in close dialogue with a unique long-term aquatic mesocosm experiment. The team will also investigate the extent of evolutionary thermal adaptation to warming and isolation due to fragmentation, and its consequences for biodiversity dynamics in a complex multitrophic community formed by tens of different species of phytoplankton and zooplankton. This ecosystem will allow them to consider several species across different trophic levels, from primary producers to predators.

Developping a theory of the combined effects of temperature and fragmentation

We have a relatively good knowledge on the independent effects of warming and fragmentation on multispecies communities. But we know almost nothing about the combined effect of these pervasive stressors worldwide. What we need now is a theory of the combined effects of these 2 stressors. Within the FRAGLIM project, José M. Montoya will try to develop such a general theory that will be applicable to any kind of ecosystem. Then, he will test the theory in aquatic pelagic ecosystems that are controlled in terms of temperature and fragmentation.“We want to look at multiple dimensions of ecosystem change within communities with considerable vertical and horizontal complexity. These effects include: changes in species number and abundances at each trophic level, relationship between body size and abundance, dynamics and stability of the community over time, and ecosystem functions that are very relevant at global scales - the carbon cycle for example. We aim at answering questions as: how much carbon dioxide is absorbed and produced by a community, whether communities become less stable as warming and fragmentation act together, what are the changes to thebody-size/abundance relationship in fragmented systemswhen warming happens, or to what extent evolutionary adaptations can mitigate the effects of climate change ”

Give policy makers the data to design their policy

“We want our science to impact the way policy makers and ecosystems managers deal with several environmental stressors at the same time.”

To achieve this goal, the promoters of the project will organize two meetings. These meetings will be centered on how to bring project results to ecosystem management: how can we find adaptive solutions based on science that can be implemented in management, and help policy-makers designing policies with a more solid basis that account for climate change within a context of increasingly fragmented ecosystems. José said it by himself: “This is truly challenging. More than anything, we need to open a dialog”.