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Turning up the heat: warming influences plankton biomass and spring phenology in subtropical waters characterized by extensive fish omnivory

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  • Hu He, CAS - Nanjing Institute of Geography and Limnology
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  • Qisheng Li, CAS - Nanjing Institute of Geography and Limnology
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  • Jing Li, Anhui Province Key Laboratory of Aquaculture and Stock Enhancement, Anhui Academy of Agricultural Sciences
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  • Yanqing Han, CAS - Nanjing Institute of Geography and Limnology
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  • Yu Cao, Chinese Academy of Sciences
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  • Wei Liu
  • Jinlei Yu, CAS - Nanjing Institute of Geography and Limnology
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  • Kuanyi Li, CAS - Nanjing Institute of Geography and Limnology, Sino-Danish Center
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  • Zhengwen Liu, CAS - Nanjing Institute of Geography and Limnology, Sino-Danish Center, Jinan University
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  • Erik Jeppesen

Understanding how biological communities respond to climate change is a major challenge in ecology. The response of ectotherms to changes in temperature depends not only on their species-specific thermal tolerances but also on temperature-mediated interactions across different trophic levels. Warming is predicted to reinforce trophic cascades in linear aquatic food chains, but little is known about how warming might affect the lower trophic levels of food webs involving extensive fish omnivory, a common scenario in subtropical and tropical waterbodies. In this study, a mesocosm warming experiment was conducted involving a pelagic food chain (fish–zooplankton–phytoplankton) topped by the omnivorous bighead carp [Aristichthys nobilis (Richardson)]. We found that temperature elevation significantly enhanced the growth of fish and suppressed zooplankton, including both metazooplankton and ciliates, while abundances of phytoplankton, despite disruption of temporal dynamics, did not increase correspondingly—likely due to fish predation. Our results suggest that trophic cascades are less unlikely to be reinforced by warming in food chains involving significant omnivory. Moreover, we found that warming advanced the spring abundance peak of phytoplankton abundance and that of the parthenogenetic rotifer Brachionus quadridentatus; whereas, it had no effect on the only sexually reproducing copepod, Mesocyclops leuckarti, presumably due to its prolonged life history. Our study also confirmed that warming may lead to a phenological mismatch between some predators and their prey because of the distinct life histories among taxa, with potentially severe consequences for resource flow in the food chain, at least in the short term.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)251-265
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020

    Research areas

  • Food chain, Mismatch, Omnivory, Phenology, Plankton, Warming

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