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Seasonal dry-down rates and high stress tolerance promote bamboo invasion above and below treeline


How species invasions impact ecosystem structure and function at important ecotones or boundaries is unknown, but may provide insight into the impacts of climate change and the mechanisms underlying community change. The dwarf bamboo, Sasa kurilensis, may be a good system to understand these issues, as the species impacts ecosystem features as it encroaches beyond treeline into alpine systems. We used remote sensing imagery spanning a 35 year period to quantify S. kurilensis expansion patterns across its range, measured growth and stress tolerances of S. kurilensis above and below treeline, and evaluated components of growth to reveal how shifts in light and water limitations influence the ontogeny of height, branching, and leaf production. We show that S. kurilensis more than doubled its abundance across its range, but more than tripled its abundance near and above treeline. Soil dry-down rates were a key driver of invasion above and below treeline, where growth rates decreased with more rapid rates of soil moisture dry-down. We found S. kurilensis responds to competition and climate stress by increasing allocation to belowground structures at high elevations. Further, it invests more carbon in fewer—yet taller and heavier—aboveground structures in low-light, low elevation environments. It appears this species’ success is driven by considerable morphological and physiological flexibility, coupled with changes in water balance associated with snowmelt that in each habitat results in sites increasingly hospitable to bamboo. Overall, this study links resource allocation strategies and physiological responses to climate change and provides a mechanistic explanation of invasion success.

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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. IIA-1414603 and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) Summer Program to DE Winkler. Additional funding was provided by JSPS KAKENHI Grant Nos. 24570015 and 15K00524 to G Kudo. Special thanks to Y Mizunaga for field support, K. Huxman and N Yukino for logistical support, KJ Chapin for comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript, and Daisetsuzan National Park staff and resource managers.

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Correspondence to Daniel E. Winkler.

Additional information

Communicated by Joseph Paul Messina



See Figs. 6 and 7.

Fig. 6

Satellite imagery analyses highlighting changes in Sasa kurilensis distributions in our alpine meadow site in 1977 (yellow outlines) and in 2012 (blue patches). Imagery reveals S. kurilensis expansion is occurring independent of trail locations and is increasingly common in backcountry areas where visitor access is not permitted

Fig. 7

Satellite imagery analyses highlighting 18 changes in Sasa kurilensis distributions in our subalpine mire site in 1977 (yellow outlines) and in 2012 (blue patches). Imagery reveals expansion is occurring beyond our focal site in the center of the image

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Winkler, D.E., Amagai, Y., Huxman, T.E. et al. Seasonal dry-down rates and high stress tolerance promote bamboo invasion above and below treeline. Plant Ecol 217, 1219–1234 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11258-016-0649-y

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  • Alpine
  • Altitudinal shift
  • Climate change
  • Snowmelt
  • Soil moisture
  • Subalpine