Future climate stimulates population out-breaks by relaxing constraints on reproduction

When conditions are stressful, reproduction and population growth are reduced, but when favourable, reproduction and population size can boom. Theory suggests climate change is an increasingly stressful environment, predicting extinctions or decreased abundances. However, if favourable conditions align, such as an increase in resources or release from competition and predation, future climate can fuel population growth. Tests of such population growth models and the mechanisms by which they are enabled are rare. We tested whether intergenerational increases in population size might be facilitated by adjustments in reproductive success to favourable environmental conditions in a large-scale mesocosm experiment. Herbivorous amphipod populations responded to future climate by increasing 20 fold, suggesting that future climate might relax environmental constraints on fecundity. We then assessed whether future climate reduces variation in mating success, boosting population fecundity and size. The proportion of gravid females doubled, and variance in phenotypic variation of male secondary sexual characters (i.e. gnathopods) was significantly reduced. While future climate can enhance individual growth and survival, it may also reduce constraints on mechanisms of reproduction such that enhanced intra-generational productivity and reproductive success transfers to subsequent generations. Where both intra and intergenerational production is enhanced, population sizes might boom.

Heldt K. A., Connell S. D., Anderson K., Russell B. D. & Munguia P., 2016. Future climate stimulates population out-breaks by relaxing constraints on reproduction. Scientific Reports 6:33383. Article. 

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