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04 December 2017

Surprise in the Kangaroo Family Tree – An Outsider Is a Close Relative, After All...

17 November 2017

European forests might not be realizing their full potential ...

14 November 2017

Partnertausch als Überlebensstrategie – Flechten passen sich durch Algenwechsel an neues Klima an ...

20 October 2017

Shallow soils promote savannas in South America...

07 September 2017

Rising winter temperatures contributed to the decline of the brown bear in Europe...

03 July 2017

Elevational range limits of alpine trees not solely determined by climate...

30 June 2017

Areas affected by fire are decreasing globally...

13 June 2017

Global hotspots for alien species are island and coastals regions...

31 May 2017

Downsizing in animal communities leads to functional decay in tropical forests...

24 May 2017

Zebras follow their memory when migrating ...

11 May 2017

Picky birds are most flexible...

09 May 2017

Open Day at Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre...

27 April 2017

Auf dem Gipfel der Evolution – Flechten bei der Artbildung zugeschaut...

19 April 2017

Bears breed across species borders...

30 March 2017

Ground water depletion due to international trade threathens food supply world-wide...

27 March 2017

Methan emissions from cows could rise by 70 per cent until 2050...

27 February 2017

New insights into the mechanisms into how ungulates got bigger in the Neogene...

20 February 2017

More warm-dwelling Animals and Plants as a Result of Climate Change ...

15 February 2017

Alien species on the rise worldwide...

02 February 2017

Partnerwahl bei Flechten – Warmes Klima macht wählerisch...

17 January 2017

Spiel mit dem Feuer – wie Eiszeitjäger das Landschaftsbild Europas prägten...

11 January 2017

How far do invasive species travel?...

04 January 2017

Domino effect: The loss of plant species triggers the extinction of animals...

Press Releases

Domino effect: The loss of plant species triggers the extinction of animals

Frankfurt, Germany, Jan 4th, 2017. When plant species disappear due to climate change, this may lead to the subsequent loss of various animal species. Insects which depend on interactions with specific plant partners are particularly threatened. Plants, in contrast, will be less sensitive to the disappearance of their animal partners, according to an international team led by scientists from Senckenberg. Their study was published recently in the scientific journal “Nature Communications.”

One plant species that will be negatively affected by climate change is the harebell. It is an essential food source for a specialized species of leaf-cutter bee, Chelostoma rapunculi. Like all animal and plant species both are part of complex ecological networks, in which interacting species are interlinked. “The local extinction of animals and plants can lead to a chain reaction of other extinction events in these networks, e.g., as a result of climate change,” says Dr. Matthias Schleuning of the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre.

Together with his colleagues, he modeled the vulnerability of more than 700 European plant and animal species to future climate change. For the first time, they combined these models with data on interactions of plants with their animal pollinators and seed dispersers. The simulation indicates that the initial spark for extinction cascades as a result of climate change mostly originates from plant species and is indirectly transferred to animal species.

This domino effect is a particular threat to animal species that only interact with a small number of plant species, since they are more sensitive to climate change than generalists. “In the future, these specialists will therefore face a double threat. According to our analyses, they are restricted to a narrow climatic niche and are therefore also directly threatened by rising temperatures in the future,” explains Dr. Christian Hof, Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre. “Chelostoma rapunculi is, thus, threatened directly, due to climate change, as well as indirectly, due to the disappearance of important food plants such as the harebell”, according to co-author Dr. Jochen Fründ of the University of Freiburg.

In contrast, the researchers detected only minor feedbacks from animals to plants, since animal species that are particularly affected by climate change usually interacted with a small number of plant species. “For instance, the harebell is visited by many different pollinators; it can therefore be expected that it will not be significantly affected by the loss of a few specialized pollinators,” adds Fründ.

Animals such as Chelostoma rapunculi could escape their fate only if they reallocate many interactions to new plant partners in the future. So far, however, the animals’ potential for this type of rewiring is not well understood. Animals that closely depend on certain plant species during their entire life cycle appear to be particularly threatened. Therefore, insects will face a higher threat than many bird species, which tend to be more flexible in their food choice.

“Our study shows that climate change not only poses a direct threat to many animal species, but that additional indirect effects also play a role. Therefore, climate change may have a more negative effect on the biological diversity of animals than previously assumed,” says Schleuning, and he adds, “A consideration of biotic interactions between animals and plants is therefore important for predicting the impacts of climate change on biodiversity.”

Press Images

C Rotundifolia

The decrease or extinction of plant species such as the harebell may trigger the coextinction of animal species. Copyright: Helge Brülheide

Chelostoma Rapunculi

This domino effect is a particular threat to animal species that only interact with a small number of plant species, such as Chelostoma rapunculi . Copyright: Andreas Haselböck, www.naturspaziergang.de

Contact:

PD Dr. Matthias Schleuning
Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre
Phone +49 (0)69- 7542 1892
Matthias.schleuning@senckenberg.de

Dr. Christian Hof
Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre
Phone +49 (0) 69- 7542 1804
Christian.hof@senckenberg.de

Sabine Wendler
Press officer
Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre
Phone +49 (0)69- 7542 1818
pressestelle@senckenberg.de

Publication: 
Schleuning, M. et al (2016): Ecological networks are more sensitive to plant than to animal extinction under climate change. Nature Communications, doi: 10.1038/ncomms13965

Press images may be used at no cost for editorial reporting, provided that the original author’s name is published, as well. The images may only be passed on to third parties in the context of current reporting.