Studying the ecological roles of top predators and the impacts of climate change on predator-prey interactions and ecosystem dynamics

Timespan: 
2013-2015
Principal Investigator: 
Forestry and Environmental Studies

Adam studies the effects of climate change on animals, the interactions they have with each other and plants, and the cascading impacts of climate change on humans and how we live in a rapidly warming world.

Adam’s previous research focused on large predators,like alligators and sharks.  At Yale he’s begun studying smaller predators like spiders.  His work is motivated by the idea that predators are critical to ecosystem stability and that their removal through over-hunting or climate change can radically change the ecosystem in both form and function, resulting in a loss of critical ecosystem services such as timber, clean water, and flood protection.

Currently Adam works on how combinations of climate change variables, like warming temperatures and more frequent droughts, simultaneously impact predators and whole ecosystems. To do this he creates experimental, self-contained mini-ecosystems in New England forests, stocks them with different species of spiders (e.g., wolf spiders and jumping spiders) and their prey, and then manipulate the temperature and rainfall patterns to see how the organisms and the ecosystem as a whole respond. Previous work in this experimental system has found that warming alone can lead to extinction of some of the spider species, which can then lead to changes in prey abundance and ecosystem nutrient cycling rates. Though spiders are small their abundance and wide distribution are consequential with significant environmental impact.

Adam’s ultimate goals are to predict how predators and the ecosystems they inhabit will respond to climate change, inform people about how changes to ecosystems can affect humans, and help inform predator population and ecosystem management strategies. Most people think of predators, especially large ones, as scary and dangerous. Though they can be threatening at times, they also deserve our respect because they’re fascinating, charismatic creatures that can play critical ecological roles in ecosystems and help maintain the balance of nature.

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