Species multidimensional effects explain idiosyncratic responses of communities to environmental change


Environmental change can alter species’ abundances within communities consistently; for example, increasing all abundances by the same percentage, or more idiosyncratically. Here, we show how comparing effects of temperature on species grown in isolation and when grown together helps our understanding of how ecological communities more generally respond to environmental change. In particular, we find that the shape of the feasibility domain (the parameter space of carrying capacities compatible with positive species’ abundances) helps to explain the composition of experimental microbial communities under changing environmental conditions. First, we introduce a measure to quantify the asymmetry of a community’s feasibility domain using the column vectors of the corresponding interaction matrix. These column vectors describe the effects each species has on all other species in the community (hereafter referred to as species’ multidimensional effects). We show that as the asymmetry of the feasibility domain increases the relationship between species’ abundance when grown together and when grown in isolation weakens. We then show that microbial communities experiencing different temperature environments exhibit patterns consistent with this theory. Specifically, communities at warmer temperatures show relatively more asymmetry; thus, the idiosyncrasy of responses is higher compared with that in communities at cooler temperatures. These results suggest that while species’ interactions are typically defined at the pairwise level, multispecies dynamics can be better understood by focusing on the effects of these interactions at the community level.

Nature Ecology & Evolution, (4), 8, pp. 1036–1043, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-020-1206-6