Future schlock – Herbivore populations will go down as temperatures go up

From the University of Toronto, where they can’t even choose an appropriate photo and caption to go with the story headline (yes, that’s it at right). The jump of logic going on here requires some sort of warp drive I think. Of course there’s that mighty big “if” qualifier used, so feel free to ignore this press release.

http://www.artsci.utoronto.ca/main/newsitems/herbivore-populations-down-temperatures-up/image_mini

"If warmer temperatures decrease zooplankton in the ocean, as predicted by our study, this will ultimately lead to less food for fish and less seafood for humans." ~Benjamin Gilbert

Herbivore populations will go down as temperatures go up, U of T study says

By Jessica Lewis

As climate change causes temperatures to rise, the number of herbivores will decrease, affecting the human food supply, according to new research from the University of Toronto.

In a paper being published this month in American Naturalist, a team of ecologists describe how differences in the general responses of plants and herbivores to temperature change produces predictable declines in herbivore populations. This decrease occurs because herbivores grow more quickly at high temperatures than plants do, and as a result the herbivores run out of food.

“If warmer temperatures decrease zooplankton in the ocean, as predicted by our study, this will ultimately lead to less food for fish and less seafood for humans,” says co-author Benjamin Gilbert of U of T’s ecology and evolutionary biology department.

Several studies have shown how the metabolic rates of plants or animals change with temperature. Gilbert and his colleagues incorporated these rates into commonly-used, mathematical models of plants and herbivores to predict how the abundance of each should change with warming. They then compared their predictions to the results from an experimental study in which phytoplankton and zooplankton populations in tanks of water shifted significantly with changes in water temperature.

Gilbert cautions that long-term tests are required. Nevertheless, if their predictions are right, global warming will cause large shifts in food chains with consequences for global food security and species conservation.

The paper entitled “Theoretical predictions for how temperature affects the dynamics of interacting herbivores and plants” was written by co-authors Gilbert and Mary O’Connor with Chris Brown of the University of Queensland.

===============================================================

And, when we look at the “paper” here, http://www.asnamnat.org/node/164 it looks just like the press release. I’m not even sure if it is peer reviewed. They don’t even use the word “abstract” anywhere on the page.  There’s no indication that there is a paper behind the login. This looks more like an announcement of “we are writing a paper and here are the results ahead of time”. Of course I have to wonder a bit after looking at the header for ASN, if this just isn’t a variation on the Journal of Irreproducible Results.

If anyone can find the actual paper (I’ve also looked at UT), I’m sure we’d all be interested in finding out the methodology and data used to come up with this theory.

65 thoughts on “Future schlock – Herbivore populations will go down as temperatures go up

  1. Stop the world, I want to get off.
    “In a paper being published this month in American Naturalist, a team of ecologists describe how differences in the general responses of plants and dinosaurs to temperature change produces predictable declines in dinosaur populations. This decrease occurs because dinosaurs grow more quickly at high temperatures than plants do, and as a result the dinosaurs run out of food.”
    There goes that whole comet theory.

  2. Providing that temperatures rise 10’s of degrees…..
    Reminds me of the fake studies with ocean acidification….
    ..raise CO2 levels to the thousands, and hold it there until all the buffers are used up
    in the lab

  3. “If warmer temperatures decrease zooplankton in the ocean, as predicted by our study, this will ultimately lead to less food for fish and less seafood for humans.”
    I don’t believe it. (This may seem like an argument from personal incredulity, but there you go.) Unless the authors are arguing that productivity is going to go down, I don’t see how this statement can be true. It might work in a bucket with a two species plant-herbivore system.
    It is also counter-intuitive. If I postulated that warmer temperatures were going to increase aphid population growth rates, you wouldn’t be worried about the aphids disappearing because of increased competition. You’d be worried about your broad beans disappearing.
    I can’t be too harsh because I’ve only seen the abstract. But it sounds weak.

  4. As far as I know most herbivores relevant to the human food supply are domesticated. So even if there would be a reason for them to diminish in numbers in the wild (probably because they throw in the towel when they find out they cannot ever hope to eat all the vegetation that thrives at higher CO2 levels), that would only affect hunter-gatherers in areas like Great Britain where modern civilization has been outlawed to protect the climate.

  5. “Gilbert cautions that long-term tests are required. Nevertheless, if their predictions are right, global warming will cause large shifts in food chains with consequences for global food security and species conservation.”
    Whoops, just let me insert this little “out” before I get stomped by the three-storey-high Charolais stripping that endangered elm tree across the street. Another case of a virtually undetectable temperature change causing mayhem and megafauna…only as long as their request for more tests is met.

  6. Is there less sea life in the tropics and subtropics as opposed to temperate waters, or more?

  7. “If warmer temperatures decrease zooplankton in the ocean, as predicted by our study, this will ultimately lead to less food for fish and less seafood for humans,” says co-author Benjamin Gilbert
    ======================================================
    That explains why bays, estuaries, etc are less productive…
    …they are obviously colder
    does anyone really need this —> snark

  8. Why can’t we normal folks file suit against the government for wasting tax dollars on stupid unscientific studies and have them pay our legal costs to do so like they do for the “green people” organizations? Perhaps we could find a federal judge who could file injunctions against further stupidity in grant allocations. That’s how the “green” idiots have stopped additional coal mining, oil drilling, power plants, refineries, logging and just about all forms of progress in the US of A.

  9. Land animals for a second. Where do you find most animal life? Warm areas or cold areas? Warm areas, of course. Herbivores have a hard time finding grass on ice.

  10. “What’s the latest news, hon?”
    “Well, it says here we’re doomed, babe.”
    “Again? Pass the cornflakes.”

  11. “herbivores grow more quickly at high temperatures than plants do, and as a result the herbivores run out of food”
    That must explain the notable lack of herbivores on the African grasslands then !

  12. The biggest threats to herbivores is the World Trade Organization’s “traceability” mandate that the FDA/USDA is even now trying to force on American farmers:
    (There are a few more days to comment at the the Federal Registry see http://nonais.org/2011/08/18/submit-a-comment-on-neonais/ on how to make a comment)
    The other threat is the OIE depopulation programs. The complete mess-up of the UK Foot & Mouth disease outbreak of 2001 is a classic example of what happens when you have decisions made by bureaucrats who do not even LIVE in the same country instead of by the Vet on the actual farm. see: http://www.warmwell.com/footmoutheye.html
    The critical factor is by OIE/WTO directive, IF you vaccinate a country can not export for TWO YEARS if you “Stamp out” (kill) you can export in three to six months depending on the disease. So instead of killing the diseased animals and vaccinating all farms X miles from the source of the disease as has been done in the past with great success, the UK used “Stamping out” only in 2001. On top of that because of the new regulations many of the rendering plants were shut down AND the government would not allow farmers to bury killed animals in quicklime (again successfully used in the past) leaving rotting carcasses to spread the disease.
    “… So, with 9500 farms killed out (end-September), the total cost to the taxpayers on a farm-by-farm basis was now approaching £2.5 billion, a figure still rising with every week that passed…. It was far too early for accurate figures yet to be available showing just how great the overall damage to Britain’s economy the foot-and-mouth crisis had been. Preliminary estimates had ranged from £8 billion to the £20 billion put forward by the Institute of Directors…..”
    Forget Global Warming the greatest danger to herbivores and to us is run away bureaucracy!

  13. The press release states:
    “Surprisingly, the study describes the impacts of warming in very simple terms, even for complex herbivore-plant interactions”.
    Chaotic self organizing systems cannot be described in simple terms! Simplicity is how we convince ourselves of things we know can’t be true.

  14. I’d always heard that dinosaurs lived when much of the Earth had a semi-tropical climate. And they did so for millions of years. Was this information wrong. I’ve not kept up on the latest, but I don’t remember hearing anything to the contrary. And what about the present day tropics? Are they short on herbivores?
    Oh, wait. “Mathematical models.” Sorry, never mind.

  15. More food + a larger range from thawed land + a longer growing season = very unhappy biosphere
    Obviously.
    That is why people don’t use greenhouses with extra CO2 to grow plants through the winter, because plants are happiest when they are cold and malnurished. That is also why the massive cattle feedlots are all in Fairbanks instead of California.
    Everyone knows that plants and animals grow best when they are frozen and dead.
    //sarc off
    Suggesting that zooplankton productivity would decrease with rising ocean temps and food concentrations is flat out silly. And it is the foundation of their study. The location of the most productive waters could shift, but global productivity would increase.

  16. This explains the extinction of the dinosaur herbivores. They just ran out of plants to eat when it was warmer than today.

  17. Kaboom says:
    October 5, 2011 at 10:16 am

    probably because they throw in the towel when they find out they cannot ever hope to eat all the vegetation that thrives at higher CO2 levels

    Are you suggesting that Global Warming caused by higher CO2 will cause greater levels of herbivore depression and suicide?
    It’s Worse Than We Thought! ®

  18. Well of course Rainbow, and other Trout species are herbivores; you fish for them with cooked corn off the cob, which is a herb, and even more popular is “Powerbait” which is flour (herb) and water solvent) along with some glitter to simulate the scales falling off small minnows that the trout may bump into. The minnows also eat seeds that fall in the stream, and seeds grow up into herbs.

  19. “…herbivores grow more quickly at high temperatures than plants do, and as a result the herbivores run out of food.”

    Wait a minute. I’ve seen that before. Plagiarism! Here is what I wrote in 2030 (!) about the a giant solar reflector that had been placed in orbit to stave off global cooling:

    Also at the United Nation news conference was Dr. Paul Ehrlich, who declared that Demi-Ra would cause mass starvation by 2040. “It will lengthen the growing season in temperate regions,” Ehrlich predicted. “The resulting increase in food production will create population growth. Soon there won’t be enough food for the increased population and everyone will die.”

    Okay, so Ehrlich said it, not me, and he said it in 2030, but I still call it plagiarism.

  20. U of Toronto:
    My wife is from Toronto, now a naturalized US citizen. You are still embarrassing her with these childish studies, over and over again. Please keep your ideas to yourself, she is getting depressed.
    Although not a scientist, she realizes that greenhouses raise their temperatures 10°C in the spring, and pump in 1000 ppm of carbon dioxide to make plants thrive and grow twice as fast. Most K through twelvers know that, too! Duh!

  21. As Kaboom indicates above, a closer-to-reality model would include the beneficial effect of CO2 on plant growth as well as the beneficial effect of higher temps and longer growing seasons.
    But that closer-to-reality model might generate perverse results, jeopardizing their future funding.

  22. It must be the lack of vegitation in Yellowstone Park, due to global warming, that is killing off all the herbirvore elk and not the wolves that are eating them. Score another victory for the “greens” and their federal injunction, legal fees paid for with your tax dollars, against shooting wolves which are now about five times their “target population” for that environment. Me thinks a few wolves introduced into the parks in DC, LA, Chicago, NYC etc. would be a great idea.

  23. Species population goes down when food supply goes down! Wow, what a revelation. But to think this would imply any “consequences for global food security” for humans anyway, is absurd. As Kaboom points out (October 5, 2001 at5 10:16am) herbivores in the human food chain are domesticated. Even in third world countries where domesticated animals are grazed on natural pasture, it is possible to supplement the animal’s diet.
    That leaves only wild herbivores to worry about. But then their “food security” is always is doubt from vicissitudes of weather. So their population goes up and down depending on any number of things. I was taught in school that this was the “balance of nature.”
    Oh well, I suppose university researchers have to make a living too. So they do what they have to do to bring those grants in

  24. We were just recently mocking a “study” that claimed warming will cause smaller animals. Now it will cause larger ones?
    Honestly, this is so insanely ridiculous that I can’t believe anyone would put their name on it.
    Enjoy these times… in future they will be looked back on with the same fond nostalgia as 70s Ice Age, disco, furry chests and facial hair, bell bottoms and tie die shirts, roller skating as a date, AMC Pacers, Michael Jackson’s black era, white wall tires, and a peanut farmer president.

  25. I would welcome a break from the herbivore population explosion that is making my life h___. Way too many of them and now the large predators are increasing in their wake. If I were not within a city limit I’d be stocking up on Weatherby.

  26. ..and here I thought plants grew better in warm, moist, high CO2 environments…better tear down the green houses. Herbivores can only grow if their food source is available. They can’t grow large and then over consume….who the heck did the population dynamics on this?

  27. old engineer
    We not only need to know the direction of the food biomass at the level of primary productivity but also whether or not it is edible. As an example if your plant biomass is diatoms then generally you will have any number of higher levels competing to eat them. If the plant biomass is smaller more noxious pico-nano plankton then generally you will have less grazing pressure and end up with more plants. And we have little if any ability to predict what type of algae will predominate. Until we understand whether changes in amount of algae are the result of some input of say nutrients or temperature or changes in grazing pressure or other inputs we should probably stay away of press releases saying we found a modeled correlation.

  28. If “Herbivore populations will go down as temperatures go up”, then we may be in for an increase in herbivores

  29. Forget about CO2, we need to greatly limit grants to folks who publish this nonsense. Otherwise, the increase in stupidity will doom us all.
    (I wish I could add “/sarc”, but it really seems that we are heading downhill. Fast.)

  30. I hate to defend this stuff (so I won’t defend the content of the paper), but when you look at the AmNat home page they do say press releases for upcoming papers which is where the link Anthony provided above comes in. AmNat is a peer-reviewed journal, I’ve reviewed for them myself in the past; the paper is probably simply ‘in press’ and not available yet with the press release intended to whip the masses into a frenzy for the paper once it’s finally available.

  31. So…the herbivores grow more quickly than the herbs, and the herbivores die out from starvation. Now what happens after the herbivores die out? Do the herbs also die out from a lack of being eaten? Or perhaps the herbs would explode in growth due to the lack of herbivores to keep them in check?
    Were the people who did this study themselves herbivores?
    [SNIP: David, this is innuendo and doesn’t really contribute to the thread. -REP]

  32. davidmhoffer says on October 5, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    Were the people who did this study themselves herbivores?
    [SNIP: -Jim, this is innuendo and doesn’t really contribute to the thread. -REP]
    Oops, wrong thread; I thought this was the Bearing Witness to the Devolution of Humankind thread …
    .

  33. Zooplankton are not plants and, strictly speaking, phytoplankton are not either. Consumers of plankton should be referred to as filter-feeders or forage fish. True plant-life in the oceans is essentially limited to mangroves and sea grasses: most sea life is animal (fish, sponges, coral, etc.) or algal. Zooplankton are animals. Phytoplankton are algae. On the other hand, there is quite a bit of plant-life in fresh water.

  34. Alec Rawls quoted Ehrlich:
    Also at the United Nation news conference was Dr. Paul Ehrlich, who declared that Demi-Ra would cause mass starvation by 2040. “It will lengthen the growing season in temperate regions,” Ehrlich predicted. “The resulting increase in food production will create population growth. Soon there won’t be enough food for the increased population and everyone will die.”
    Yogi Berra had this logic figured out: “Nobody ever goes there ’cause it’s always too crowded.”

  35. Like Economics in relation to economic processes, experiments on the biosphere are problematic and theories are only falsifiable by modelling or long time lags where there are observers and data are collected and replication is also problematic because time doesn’t flow backward. The problem with this study is that it is a complex inductive argument with multiple causations. This makes these types of arguments frustrating because you have to resort to alternative inductive arguments to show potential flaws but your reasoning is not falsifiable either by experiment so you are left with nothing more than skepticism about the argument’s premises. This makes skepticism a natural response to all ecological inductive arguments. They might be internally consistent but even one exception to a premise makes it untrue for one, some or all cases.
    The weakness of inductive arguments is why we now have, in climate change science, layered causation and contra-causation from aerosols to volcanos to clouds to finding the missing heat. When a theory needs to be modified to account for every bit of new data it has stopped being a theory and it is just a story.

  36. Kaboom says:
    October 5, 2011 at 10:16 am
    ” probably because they throw in the towel when they find out they cannot ever hope to eat all the vegetation that thrives at higher CO2 levels”
    __________________________________________________________________________
    My goat herd agrees with you. They take one look at the massive wall of Vampire vines (greenbriar) wild grape, honey suckle and wild blackberry and turned tail and ran for the mowed pasture! This is the SAME area they had eaten to the ground two years ago…..

  37. I wold expect the number of herbifores decrease as the number of carnivores increase … same with fish!

  38. Their ‘model’ obviously left out that higher CO2 will make the plants grow FASTER.
    I’ve seen it happen many times, in numerous vegetable and other species
    grown side-by-side in my office window, in identical commercially-bought planter kits.
    With the CO2 (500 to 2000 ppm), the plants are obviously growth-obsessed,
    with leaves puckered up with rapid-growth and stems lunging vertically.
    Every few hours changes are visible, vs. every few days with no extra CO2.
    These people are totally out of touch with reality, yet call themselves ‘researchers’.

  39. Jim G says:
    October 5, 2011 at 11:39 am
    It must be the lack of vegitation in Yellowstone Park, due to global warming, that is killing off all the herbirvore elk and not the wolves that are eating them…..
    __________________________________________________________________________
    And here I thought it was Dr. Combs (no relation) who was knocking them off.
    It is part of the eradication of brucellosis and tuberculosis in Yellowstone wildlife. Dr. Bret Combs, the area veterinarian in charge of the Animal and Plant Health.

  40. Lets get to the heart of the matter. This is a quote from above:
    “Gilbert cautions that long-term tests are required”
    Read: a steady stream of gubbermint money is needed to keep the researchers rolling in the dough. CAGW is good for business!

  41. Complete BS – in the extremely unlikely event overall global temperatures rise a few degrees, not much will happen in the tropics, but the rise will be concentrated mostly in the temperate and polar regions.
    As for Canada (and Russia), huge areas of the north will be opened up for grazing animals like cattle and sheep, which previously only could support, caribou, reindeer and musk oxen.
    There’s no need for science here, just plain old common sense.

  42. [SNIP: David, this is innuendo and doesn’t really contribute to the thread. -REP]
    It was clearly humour and sarcasm, I seriously doubt anyone would have taken it as anything but, and there are comments in this thread making outright accusations of corruption let alone sarcastic “innuendo”.
    How about” “the study is deeply flawed and appears to have been written by people who perceive the world through an altered form of reality”
    How’s that?

  43. “experimental study in which phytoplankton and zooplankton populations in tanks of water shifted significantly with changes in water temperature.”
    But
    Science Has Proved
    that zooplankton get smaller in warmer temperatures, so although there may be more of them, each one will eat less. There will still be plenty of them for the fish to eat.
    As far as I can tell, the real danger to the fish supply is overfishing. (Plus the fact that the fish off the Japanese coast are radioactive, and toxic waste is turning the fish off the Chinese coast into giant jellyfish.)

  44. Roha- and like most other environmental problems overfishing is significantly associated with subsidies in the US and elsewhere

  45. “This decrease occurs because dinosaurs grow more quickly at high temperatures than plants do, and as a result the dinosaurs run out of food.”
    However this effect took a whooping 70 million years to kill the dinosaurs. Maybe we should not introduce a carbon tax right away?

  46. And this explains the known correlation between Rocky Mountain herbivore populations and Pacific atmospheric and oceanic conditions how? When conditions warm things up and wet things down, herds increase for a couple plus decades. When conditions cool down, dries soils, and freeze up, herds decrease in size. Well known proxy for long term weather pattern variations and oscillations.
    The authors of the above modeled study failed. In so many ways.

  47. Alex says:
    October 6, 2011 at 12:05 am
    I was thinking along the same lines toward a new theory about dinosaurs and herbivory:
    “Dinosaurs are thin at one end, thick in the middle, and thin at the other end”.
    This is in line with the logic processing among those similar-shaped students sitting at computers at the U of Toronto. Further study is certainly needed about dinosaur shapes, and the relation to global warming. Ka-Ching!

  48. The best available (C)AGW-confirming peer-reviewed work has said the effects of global warming will continue for 1000 years even after (anthropogenic) emissions stop. (Reference 1, discussed here; discussion on Reference 2) Shut down civilization tomorrow, it’ll take a millennium before temperatures drop. There will also be (nigh-)irreversible changes, desertification etc.
    With the intensifying of competition for edible plant matter, there will be shortages of high-nutrition items such as berries, other fruits, and nuts that many herbivores and omnivores prefer. Between the droughts and the intense frequent bad weather, farming won’t be able to cover the deficit, especially with the expected future restrictions on fertilizers and pesticides and irrigation water. With zero-emissions becoming the standard, there will also be a reduction in our ability to farm (how many acres can an electric tractor plow between charges?). Farmed crops like corn and soybeans will be severely impacted.
    Therefore vegans are already on a long path to hunger, malnutrition, and possibly extinction. We omnivores will survive just fine off of the critters that consume the non-human-edible vegetable matter.
    Wow, this report must be really scary to the PETA people.
    Of course as the warmth continues during that millennium, there may be a few to several meters of sea level rise, which will wipe out some very productive farmland while in general it reduces the available land area for plants to grow on, with the droughts and desertification providing additional negative impacts. Thus the paper mentioned above, not accounting for that, underestimates the problem. It really will be worse than they thought.
    But being vegan will overwhelmingly be known as an unsustainable lifestyle, especially not something that all humans can follow without drastic population cuts if such would even work. Eh, the benefit is worth the risks. Burn those fossil fuels and bring on the warmth!
    😉

  49. “Of course herbivore populations will go down if it gets warmer, nothing can resist the smell of burgers on a bbq of a nice summers day!”
    H/T Generalissmo Michael Evans on Farcebook

  50. Looks like the classic self-“trout slap” .
    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Trout%20Slap
    The fish on the photograph is a trout, a rainbow trout.
    It has absolutely nothing to do with oceans.
    “If warmer temperatures decrease zooplankton in the ocean, as predicted by our study…”
    This kind of trout lives preferably in colder headwaters, not anywhere near or in oceans.
    Just my 2 cents…

  51. “”””” petermue says:
    October 6, 2011 at 4:10 pm
    Looks like the classic self-”trout slap” .
    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Trout%20Slap
    The fish on the photograph is a trout, a rainbow trout.
    It has absolutely nothing to do with oceans. “”””””
    Well some RAINBOW trout, are better known by another name; “Steelhead” The very famous Rainbow trout of New Zealand are actually Steelhead from the Russian river of California..
    I almost forgot; steelhead are just rainbow trout that go to sea like salmon, and return when mature to spawn. Unlike salmon, they don’t die after spawning. Another name for the sea, is “ocean”.
    PS, since they introduced all those trash rainbow trout to New Zealand waters, i’s is a lot harder to catch a decent eel in the streams anymore.

  52. Minor typo, Anthony……
    “This looks more like an announcement of “we are writing a paper and here are the results ahead of time.”
    should read:
    “This looks more like an announcement of “we have the desired results ahead of time and
    are writing a paper.”

  53. In Yellowstone, the fish were in bad trouble because the herbivores (elk and deer) were eating all the shoots of plants right down to the streamsides, and shade and debris were in short supply. Wolves were introduced, and the elk became fewer and more cautious in their eating patterns, allowing the plant cover to recover. The fish were able to recover. Nobody foresaw or modelled this.
    The complexities and interactions of the natural world are way beyond the comprehension of modellers. They project thousands or millions of extinctions based on linear extrapolations, which then proceed not to occur, they try to do reductionist analysis of massively non-linear complex systems, and never learn.

  54. Anthony, your headline is offensively misleading. The word “schlock” reveals a bias which will distort your audience’s perceptions. The truth of the science you are reporting will, accordingly, be misapprehended.
    Is there any doubt that global warming affects plant growth? Changes in temperature, humidity and moisture are having massive impacts everywhere, especially in those areas where food is grown in large quantities.The diets of animals (including us) eating these plants will obviously be impacted adversely.
    REPLY: Are you writing this from Occupy Wall Street? – Anthony

Comments are closed.