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Ecological contingency in the effects of climatic warming on forest herb communities

January 1, 2010

Downscaling from the predictions of general climate models is critical to current strategies for mitigating species loss caused by climate change. A key impediment to this downscaling is that we lack a fully developed understanding of how variation in physical, biological, or land-use characteristics mediates the effects of climate change on ecological communities within regions. We analyzed change in understory herb communities over a 60-y period (1949/1951–2007/2009) in a complex montane landscape (the Siskiyou Mountains, Oregon) where mean temperatures have increased 2 °C since 1948, similar to projections for other terrestrial communities. Our 185 sites included primary and secondary-growth lower montane forests (500–1.200 m above sea level) and primary upper montane to subalpine forests (1,500–2,100 m above sea level). In lower montane forests, regardless of land-use history, we found multiple herb-community changes consistent with an effectively drier climate, including lower mean specific leaf area, lower relative cover by species of northern biogeographic affinity, and greater compositional resemblance to communities in southerly topographic positions. At higher elevations we found qualitatively different and more modest changes, including increases in herbs of northern biogeographic affinity and in forest canopy cover. Our results provide community-level validation of predicted nonlinearities in climate change effects.

Publication Year 2010
Title Ecological contingency in the effects of climatic warming on forest herb communities
DOI 10.1073/pnas.1006823107
Authors Susan Harrison, Ellen Ingman Damschen, James B. Grace
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Index ID 70003408
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization National Wetlands Research Center