Environmental change can alter species’ abundances within communities consistently; for example, increasing all abundances by the same percentage, or more idiosyncratically. Here, we show how comparing effects of temperature on species grown in isolation and when grown together helps our understanding of how ecological communities more generally respond to environmental change. The shape of the feasibility domain (the parameter space of carrying capacities compatible with positive species’ abundances) helps to explain the composition of experimental microbial communities under changing environmental conditions. As the asymmetry of the feasibility domain increases the relationship between species’ abundance when grown together and when grown in isolation weakens. Microbial communities experiencing different temperature environments exhibit patterns consistent with this theory. These results suggest that while species’ interactions are typically defined at the pairwise level, multispecies dynamics can be better understood by focusing on the effects of these interactions at the community level.
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