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Effects of climate variation on trophic interactions in a high elevation riparian ecosystem and bird community

Large herbivore (elk/deer) exclusion experiment on a riparian ecosystem and bird community


Select Bibliography:

Martin, T. E., and J. L. Maron. 2012. Climate impacts on bird and plant communities from altered animal-plant interactions. Nature Climate Change

Martin, T. E., E. Arriero, and A. Majewska. 2011. A trade-off between embryonic development rate and immune function of avian offspring is revealed by considering embryonic temperature. Biology Letters

Martin, T. E. 2011. The cost of fear. Science

Effects of Climate Change on Montane Riparian Ecosystems

Change from 1985 (top) to 2011 (bottom) in vegetation structure and density related to long-term declining snow levels allowing increased elk herbivory.
Change from 1985 (top) to
2011 (bottom) in vegetation
structure and density related
to long-term declining snow
levels allowing increased elk
herbivory.
This research continues and extends long-term (25 years) study of climate effects on an ecosystem classified as high priority and vulnerable: a montane riparian system in the arid southwest. We are examining the causal mechanisms (both physiological and ecological) underlying demographic sensitivities to climate variation that result in changes in ecosystem structure (species composition) and function (trophic interactions). The research includes estimation of long-term population trajectories and demographic sensitivity of a full array of vegetation, bird, and mammal species and their trophic interactions to climate variation in order to project future responses and possible management alternatives. We are testing the trickle-down effects of long-term changes in snow levels on elk herbivory and consequences for plant densities and the resulting myriad effects on the animals that depend on these plants. We also are examining how changes in plants and summer temperatures affect avian embryo physiology and predation and thereby influence demography, parental behavior, and offspring quality.

Why is this research important?

Study of multiple trophic groups and their interactions are rare, but urgently needed to understand causal mechanisms of ecosystem change in response to climate. We are examining climate effects on trophic interactions (herbivory, predation) between large herbivores, plants, small mammals and birds - the only such study in the world examining this range of trophic interactions and over a long enough time-frame to see climate influences. In addition, we are examining the causal mechanisms and hierarchical scaling underlying change in ecosystem structure (species composition) and function (trophic interactions) in response to climate variation. Finally, we are examining physiological sensitivities of birds and their offspring to climate and the resulting potential consequences from warming.

Principal Investigator: Thomas E Martin, Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit

Project Team: John Maron, Megan Jankowski, Sonya Auer, 2 graduate students, 25 undergraduates

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