Nav: Home

Plant species' responses to climate change altered by novel competitors

September 16, 2015

RIVERSIDE, Calif. - With climate change and rising average temperatures, many wild animals and plants are being forced into new habitats, their distributions shifting in elevation and latitude with differing velocities. For alpine plants, this could mean facing competition from species unknown to them, such as plants found at lower elevations today that migrate to higher elevations due to climate change.

A new study, published this week in Nature, by Jeffrey M. Diez, an assistant professor of plant ecology at the University of California, Riverside, and colleagues now provides the first empirical evidence that this new source of competition among plants could be decisive and contributes to growing evidence that changing species interactions are more important than the direct effects of temperature after climate warming.

"When species migrate to different environments to keep up with changes in climate, they encounter new competitors, and engage in new interactions within ecological communities," Diez said. "To accurately predict species' responses to climate change, future forecasts should account for new competitor species affecting ecological communities."

To replicate the effects of rising temperatures on plant species' interactions, the researchers transplanted alpine plant species and intact plant communities to different elevations along a mountain slope near Chur in the Swiss Alps.

Specifically, they transplanted four characteristic plant species - spring pasqueflower, alpine kidney vetch, glossy scabious and black plantain - from their current location in an alpine meadow to a new home 600 metres lower down the mountain. (This move simulated the expected rise of about 3 degrees in average temperature for Switzerland over the next 50 to 100 years.) Then for two years the researchers studied how the plants performed.

They tested scenarios in which alpine plants remain at their location in a warmer climate and are either invaded by species from lower elevations, or remain competing with their current alpine community. They also tested scenarios in which the alpine plants manage to migrate upwards, where they encounter high-alpine plant communities or their current competitors that migrate along with them.

They found that those alpine species that did not migrate to adjust to higher temperatures performed poorly if new competitors moved in and joined them. When they did migrate to adjust to rising temperatures, however, they performed well even if they moved into a new community of competitors.

Previously, ecologists assumed that higher temperatures would prove to be alpine plants' downfall. The research team found, however, that this direct effect of climate change was rarely negative

"The decisive factor that will make life difficult for alpine plants in future is competition, and competition from novel low elevation migrants in particular," said Jake Alexander, the lead author of the study and a scientist at the Institute of Integrative Biology, ETH Zurich, Switzerland

The researchers believe that their findings are important for efforts to predict species' climate change responses

"The vast majority of predictions about where species will be in the future is based on the assumption that competitor identity doesn't matter," said Diez, who joined UC Riverside in 2013

The researchers posit that finding out that it is competition from lower-elevation flora that serves as the decisive effect, and not higher temperatures as previously assumed, is a very valuable discovery

"Our study provides one of the first empirical indications that competition with new 'range expanders' has to be taken into account when forecasting species' responses to climate change," Alexander said.
-end-
He and Diez were joined in the study by Jonathan Levine, a professor at ETH Zurich. The study was funded by ETH Zurich.The University of California, Riverside (http://www.ucr.edu) is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion. A broadcast studio with fiber cable to the AT&T Hollywood hub is available for live or taped interviews. UCR also has ISDN for radio interviews. To learn more, call (951) UCR-NEWS.

University of California - Riverside

Related Climate Change Articles:

Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.
Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.
Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.
Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.
A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.
Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).
Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.
Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.
Could climate change cause infertility?
A number of plant and animal species could find it increasingly difficult to reproduce if climate change worsens and global temperatures become more extreme -- a stark warning highlighted by new scientific research.
Predicting climate change
Thomas Crowther, ETH Zurich identifies long-disappeared forests available for restoration across the world.
More Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Mindset
In the past few months, human beings have come together to fight a global threat. This hour, TED speakers explore how our response can be the catalyst to fight another global crisis: climate change. Guests include political strategist Tom Rivett-Carnac, diplomat Christiana Figueres, climate justice activist Xiye Bastida, and writer, illustrator, and artist Oliver Jeffers.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Speedy Beet
There are few musical moments more well-worn than the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. But in this short, we find out that Beethoven might have made a last-ditch effort to keep his music from ever feeling familiar, to keep pushing his listeners to a kind of psychological limit. Big thanks to our Brooklyn Philharmonic musicians: Deborah Buck and Suzy Perelman on violin, Arash Amini on cello, and Ah Ling Neu on viola. And check out The First Four Notes, Matthew Guerrieri's book on Beethoven's Fifth. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.