The combined effects of multiple ecological stressors determine the net impact of global change on environmentally sensitive alpine and polar environments. For example, climate warming and nitrogen deposition both increasingly affect ecosystems at high elevations. We hypothesized that the net impact of warming and nitrogen on alpine plankton differs between consumers and producers because of the greater environmental sensitivity of higher trophic levels. Also, we expected that habitat conditions would mediate the responses of plankton to these two stressors as sediments function as ecological buffers against environmental change. These hypotheses were tested in a growth chamber by applying temperature (8 vs. 15°C) and nitrogen (200 vs. 1000 µg N L−1) treatments to a planktonic alpine community in the presence and absence of sediments obtained from Pipit Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta. A significant nitrogen-temperature interaction affected phytoplankton abundance because the positive effect of fertilization depended on warming. Warming also amplified the effect of nitrogen on herbivores while suppressing the fecundity of omnivores. The presence of sediments suppressed the positive effect of warming on herbivores, but stimulated omnivores. The observed prevalence of non-additive effects highlights the strong potential for global change causing future ecological surprises in alpine environments.
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Vol. 40 • No. 1