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:

The black forest and climate change
Silver and Douglas firs could replace Norway spruce in the long run due to their greater resistance to droughts.
For some US counties, climate change will be particularly costly
A highly granular assessment of the impacts of climate change on the US economy suggests that each 1°Celsius increase in temperature will cost 1.2 percent of the country's gross domestic product, on average.
Climate change label leads to climate science acceptance
A new Cornell University study finds that labels matter when it comes to acceptance of climate science.
Was that climate change?
A new four-step 'framework' aims to test the contribution of climate change to record-setting extreme weather events.
It's more than just climate change
Accurately modeling climate change and interactive human factors -- including inequality, consumption, and population -- is essential for the effective science-based policies and measures needed to benefit and sustain current and future generations.
Climate change scientists should think more about sex
Climate change can have a different impact on male and female fish, shellfish and other marine animals, with widespread implications for the future of marine life and the production of seafood.
Climate change prompts Alaska fish to change breeding behavior
A new University of Washington study finds that one of Alaska's most abundant freshwater fish species is altering its breeding patterns in response to climate change, which could impact the ecology of northern lakes that already acutely feel the effects of a changing climate.
Uncertainties related to climate engineering limit its use in curbing climate change
Climate engineering refers to the systematic, large-scale modification of the environment using various climate intervention techniques.
Public holds polarized views about climate change and trust in climate scientists
There are gaping divisions in Americans' views across every dimension of the climate debate, including causes and cures for climate change and trust in climate scientists and their research, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
The psychology behind climate change denial
In a new thesis in psychology, Kirsti Jylhä at Uppsala University has studied the psychology behind climate change denial.

Related Climate Change Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Moving Forward
When the life you've built slips out of your grasp, you're often told it's best to move on. But is that true? Instead of forgetting the past, TED speakers describe how we can move forward with it. Guests include writers Nora McInerny and Suleika Jaouad, and human rights advocate Lindy Lou Isonhood.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#527 Honey I CRISPR'd the Kids
This week we're coming to you from Awesome Con in Washington, D.C. There, host Bethany Brookshire led a panel of three amazing guests to talk about the promise and perils of CRISPR, and what happens now that CRISPR babies have (maybe?) been born. Featuring science writer Tina Saey, molecular biologist Anne Simon, and bioethicist Alan Regenberg. A Nobel Prize winner argues banning CRISPR babies won’t work Geneticists push for a 5-year global ban on gene-edited babies A CRISPR spin-off causes unintended typos in DNA News of the first gene-edited babies ignited a firestorm The researcher who created CRISPR twins defends...