Organismal homeostasis buffers the effects of abiotic change on community dynamics

The problem of linking fine-scale processes to broad-scale patterns remains a central challenge of ecology. As rates of abiotic change intensify, there is a critical need to understand how individual responses aggregate to generate compensatory dynamics that stabilize community processes. Notably, whilst local and global resource enhancement (e.g. nutrient and CO2 release) can reverse dominance relationship between key species (e.g. shifts from naturally kelp-dominated to turf-dominated systems), herbivores can counter these shifts by consuming the additional productivity of competing species (e.g. turfs). Here, we test whether consumer plasticity in energy intake to maintain growth in varying environments can underpin changes in consumption that buffer varying levels of productivity. In response to carbon and nutrient enrichment, herbivores increased consumption of higher-quality food which acted as a buffer against enhanced production, whilst maintaining organismal processes across varying abiotic conditions (i.e. growth). These results not only suggest plasticity in feeding behaviour, but also in energy acquisition and utilization to maintain organismal processes. Such plasticity may not only underpin organismal homeostasis, but also compensatory dynamics that emerge from the aggregate of these responses to buffer change in community processes.

Ghedini G. & Connell S. D., in press. Organismal homeostasis buffers the effects of abiotic change on community dynamics. Ecology. Article (subscription required).

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