Date Published:Feb 2016
Evaluating the effects of climate variation on ecosystems is of paramount importance for our ability to forecast and mitigate the consequences of global change. However, the ways in which complex food webs respond to climate variations remain poorly understood. Here, we use long-term time series to investigate the effects of temperature variation on the intraguild-predation (IGP) system of Windermere (UK), a lake where pike (Esox lucius, top predator) feed on small-sized perch (Perca fluviatilis) but compete with large-sized perch for the same food sources. Spectral analyses of time series reveal that pike recruitment dynamics are temperature controlled. In 1976, expansion of a size-truncating perch pathogen into the lake severely impacted large perch and favoured pike as the IGP-dominant species. This pathogen-induced regime shift to a pike-dominated IGP apparently triggered a temperature-controlled trophic cascade passing through pike down to dissolved nutrients. In simple food chains, warming is predicted to strengthen top–down control by accelerating metabolic rates in ectothermic consumers, while pathogens of top consumers are predicted to dampen this top–down control. In contrast, the local IGP structure in Windermere made warming and pathogens synergistic in their top–down effects on ecosystem functioning. More generally, our results point to top predators as major mediators of community response to global change, and show that size-selective agents (e.g. pathogens, fishers or hunters) may change the topological architecture of food webs and alter whole ecosystem sensitivity to climate variation.