Modeling the response of populations of competing species to climate change

Elvira Poloczanska S, S J Hawkins, AJ Southward, Michael Burrows

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169 Citations (Scopus)


Biotic interactions will modulate species' responses to climate change. Many approaches to predicting the impacts of climate change on biodiversity so far have been based purely on a climate envelope approach and have not considered direct and indirect species interactions. Using a long-term observational data set (>30 years) of competing intertidal barnacle species, we built a hierarchy of age-structured two-taxa population models (Semibalanus balanoides vs. Chthamalus montagui and C. stellatus combined as one taxon) to test if the presence of a dominant competitor can mediate climatic influence on the subordinate species. Models were parameterized using data from populations on the south coast of southwest England and verified by hindcasting using independent north coast population data. Recruitment of the dominant competitor, S. balanoides, is driven by temperature. The mechanisms of competition explored included simple space preemption and temperature-driven interference competition. The results indicate that interspecific competition between juvenile barnacles is important in regulating chthamalid density but not that of the dominant competitor S. balanoides. Simulations were carried out using alternative future climate scenarios to predict barnacle population abundance over the next century. Under all emission scenarios, the cold-water S. balanoides is predicted to virtually disappear from southwest England by the 2050s, leading to the competitive release of Chthamalus throughout the entire region and thereby substantially increasing its abundance and occupied habitat (by increasing vertical range on the shore). Our results demonstrate that climate change can profoundly affect the abundance and distribution of species through both the direct effects of temperature on survival, and also by altering important negative interactions through shifting competitive balances and essentially removing dominant competitors or predators. Climate change impacts on organisms are unlikely to lead only to straightforward, easily predictable changes in population size and distribution. The complex, indirect effects of climate change need to be taken into account if we are to accurately forecast the long-term effects of global warming.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3138-3149
Number of pages12
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • Ecology

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    Poloczanska S, E., Hawkins, S. J., Southward, AJ., & Burrows, M. (2008). Modeling the response of populations of competing species to climate change. Ecology, 89(11), 3138-3149.