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Decoupling of species and plant communities of the U.S. Southwest: A CCSM4 climate scenario example

February 8, 2023

Climate change is predicted to alter the current climate suitability under which plant species and communities occur. Predictions of change have focused on individual species or entire communities, but theory indicates plants will not respond uniformly to climate change within or between communities. We developed models of the current climate suitability (the baseline) of 66 plant species characteristic of 29 plant communities of the arid Southwest, made predictions of climate suitability for the species under two climate change scenarios for the years 2041–2060 (Community Climate System Model version 1.4 [CCSM4] global climate model [GCM], Representative Concentration Pathway [RCP] 4.5 and 8.5 scenarios), and calculated changes in suitability between the future scenarios and baseline for each species. Climate change exposure for the entire community was then evaluated as the composite change of the predicted future climate suitability of the communities' characteristic species. Loss of 25% or more of favorable climate suitability was predicted for 39 (RCP4.5) and 51 (RCP8.5) species within their communities. The proportion of the study area with all species in a community having unfavorable suitability was 17.9% (RCP4.5) and 21.3% (RCP8.5) compared to 6.2% for baseline. We show that suitable climates for species within a plant community are not expected to be a single community-wide trajectory, but rather changes in climate suitability will be unique to the species and not experienced uniformly across the extant communities. This decoupling of plant species within their traditional plant communities may lead to a cascade of unanticipated ecological responses and unprecedented challenges to resource management. Our study results can inform hypotheses of the future successional track of plant communities, characteristic species, and the decisions resource managers must make for management.

Publication Year 2023
Title Decoupling of species and plant communities of the U.S. Southwest: A CCSM4 climate scenario example
DOI 10.1002/ecs2.4414
Authors Kathryn A. Thomas, Brett A. Stauffer, Christopher J. Jarchow
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecosphere
Index ID 70241144
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Southwest Biological Science Center