Life history trade-offs, the intensity of competition, and coexistence in novel and evolving communities under climate change

Lesley T. Lancaster, Gavin Morrison, Robert N. Fitt

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The consequences of climate change for local biodiversity are little
understood in process or mechanism, but these changes are likely to reflect both
changing regional species pools and changing competitive interactions. Previous
empirical work largely supports the idea that competition will intensify under
climate change, promoting competitive exclusions and local extinction, while
theory and conceptual work indicate that relaxed competition may in fact buffer
communities from biodiversity losses that are typically witnessed at broader
spatial scales. In this review, we apply life history theory to understand the
conditions under which these alternative scenarios may play out in the context
of a range-shifting biota undergoing rapid evolutionary and environmental
change, and at both leading-edge and trailing-edge communities. We conclude
that in general, warming temperatures are likely to reduce life history variation
among competitors, intensifying competition in both established and novel
communities. However, longer growing seasons, severe environmental stress,
and increased climatic variability associated with climate change may buffer
these communities against biodiversity loss. The role of life history plasticity and
evolution has been previously underappreciated in community ecology, but may
hold the key to understanding changing species interactions and local
biodiversity under changing climates.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20160046
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1712
Publication statusPublished - 5 Dec 2016

Bibliographical note

University of Aberdeen School of Biological Sciences provided funds to support this study in the form of a MSc project allowance to G.M. and a start-up grant to L.T.L. R.N.F.’s salary is funded by a UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
PhD-ship awarded to the University of Aberdeen.


  • range shifts
  • no-analogue communities
  • global warming
  • trophic interactions and competition
  • community
  • ecological niche


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