Aim: Marked differences in plant and animal responses to climate change could have a profound impact on community composition and function, with implications for habitat structure and resource availability for fauna, and the provision of faunal-mediated ecological services for flora. We examine the comparative sensitivity of plant and ant assemblages to climatic change, and determine if we should expect community breakdown and a loss of ecosystem function under climate change.
Location: A bioclimatic gradient from the temperate to arid zone in South Australia. Methods: We sampled plant and ant assemblages along the gradient to establish assemblage-level responses to spatial climatic change using ordinations, and then projected assemblage responses to future climate change scenarios.
Results: We recorded totals of 363 plant and 227 ant species. Alignment between plant and ant communities was high, suggesting a high degree of similarity in the structuring of plant and ant communities in relation to environmental variation. However, our modelling suggested that ant assemblages were up to 7.5 times more sensitive to projected climate change than were plant assemblages, forecasting a very substantial decoupling of these assemblages under a future climate.
Main conclusions: Our results indicate that a high degree of community reorganization and change in ecosystem function should be expected under climate change.