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Thomas Merckx, Caroline Souffreau, Aurélien Kaiser, Lisa F. Baardsen, Thierry Backeljau, Dries Bonte, Kristien I. Brans, Marie Cours, Maxime Dahirel, Nicolas Debortoli, Katrien De Wolf, Jessie M. T. Engelen, Diego Fontaneto, Andros T. Gianuca, Lynn Govaert, Frederik Hendrickx, Janet Higuti, Luc Lens, Koen Martens, Hans Matheve, Erik Matthysen, Elena Piano, Rose Sablon, Isa Schön, Karine Van Doninck, Luc De Meester and Hans Van Dyck (2018)

Body-size shifts in aquatic and terrestrial urban communities

Nature, 558:113-116.

Body size is intrinsically linked to metabolic rate and life-history traits, and is a crucial determinant of food webs and community dynamics1,2. The increased temperatures associated with the urban-heat-island effect result in increased metabolic costs and are expected to drive shifts to smaller body sizes3. Urban environments are, however, also characterized by substantial habitat fragmentation4, which favours mobile species. Here, using a replicated, spatially nested sampling design across ten animal taxonomic groups, we show that urban communities generally consist of smaller species. In addition, although we show urban warming for three habitat types and associated reduced community-weighted mean body sizes for four taxa, three taxa display a shift to larger species along the urbanization gradients. Our results show that the general trend towards smaller-sized species is overruled by filtering for larger species when there is positive covariation between size and dispersal, a process that can mitigate the low connectivity of ecological resources in urban settings5. We thus demonstrate that the urban-heat-island effect and urban habitat fragmentation are associated with contrasting community-level shifts in body size that critically depend on the association between body size and dispersal. Because body size determines the structure and dynamics of ecological networks1, such shifts may affect urban ecosystem function.
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