Global warming is now an undeniable reality, with species range shifts, seasonal shifts in life cycle events, and reduced body size recognised as three universal responses to increasing temperature. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has forecast an average 1.5-4.5 C increase in global surface temperatures, with even stronger increases predicted for Arctic areas. In addition, the small species pool and geographic isolation of high latitude ecosystems makes them particularly vulnerable, with recent suggestions that they may act as early-warning indicators to the potential impacts of global warming.
At the same time, humans are exerting great change on natural ecosystems, with habitat fragmentation recognised as one of the major threats to biodiversity. Agricultural expansion to meet growing global food demands has seen natural landscapes divided up into smaller, and more isolated fragments by monocultures of commercially important crops. My research will study the interaction of these two major components of global change and the effect they have on terrestrial communities. I will determine the manner in which natural communities assemble – a critical process in harvested ecosystems, which are continually reset to early stages of succession. I will then assess how warming and fragmentation alter this process and how detrimental that might be to the ecosystem services we derive. I will also determine the impact of warming and fragmentation on the structure of terrestrial food webs, with a particular interest in how loss of larger predators may undermine pest control in agricultural systems. This will have important implications for crop yield and quality. I will assess the resilience of these communities to extreme events, by simulating severe flooding in my study systems. And I will improve our predictability of warming impacts on terrestrial ecosystems by testing predictive models with the data I collect. The findings will help to inform conservation management in the face of continuing global change, as well as agriculture and land use policy, and our general understanding of how natural communities respond to climatic and human-induced disturbances.