Modeling rates of life form cover change in burned and unburned alpine heathland subject to experimental warming

An Erratum to this article was published on 18 April 2015

Abstract

Elevated global temperatures are expected to alter vegetation dynamics by interacting with physiological processes, biotic relationships and disturbance regimes. However, few studies have explicitly modeled the effects of these interactions on rates of vegetation change, despite such information being critical to forecasting temporal patterns in vegetation dynamics. In this study, we build and parameterize rate-change models for three dominant alpine life forms using data from a 7-year warming experiment. These models allowed us to examine how the interactions between experimental warming, the abundance of bare ground (a measure of past disturbance) and neighboring life forms (a measure of life form interaction) affect rates of cover change in alpine shrubs, graminoids and forbs. We show that experimental warming altered rates of life form cover change by reducing the negative effects of neighboring life forms and positive effects of bare ground. Furthermore, we show that our models can predict the observed direction and rate of life form cover change at burned and unburned long-term monitoring sites. Model simulations revealed that warming in unburned vegetation is expected to result in increased forb and shrub cover and decreased graminoid cover. In contrast, in burned vegetation, warming is predicted to slow post-fire regeneration in both graminoids and forbs and facilitate rapid expansion in shrub cover. These findings illustrate the applicability of modeling rates of vegetation change using experimental data. Our results also highlight the need to account for both disturbance and the abundance of other life forms when examining and forecasting vegetation dynamics under climatic change.

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Acknowledgments

This research was funded through Australian Research Council Linkage Grants, partnered through the Department of Sustainability and Environment, Parks Victoria and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). The Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Environment Decisions (CEED) and Holsworth Wildlife Research Committee also supported this research. J. S. C. was a recipient of an Australian Postgraduate Award. Monica Camac, Shona Arber, Deborah Cargill, Seraphina Cutler, Bradley Farmilo, Lauren Keim, Katherine Giljohann, Annie Leschen, Luke O’Laughlin, Matthew Richardson, Linda Riquelme, Paul Smart, Karen Stott, Freya Thomas and Emma Warrenall aided in data collection. Special thanks to William Morris, Chris Jones and John Baumgartner for modeling advice and Warwick Papst for logistics. Lastly we thank the anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on this manuscript. The experiment and long-term monitoring was conducted in accordance with current Australian laws. This research was conducted under Parks Victoria permit number 10005232.

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Correspondence to James S. Camac.

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Communicated by Scott Collins.

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Camac, J.S., Williams, R.J., Wahren, CH. et al. Modeling rates of life form cover change in burned and unburned alpine heathland subject to experimental warming. Oecologia 178, 615–628 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-015-3261-2

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Keywords

  • Bayesian
  • Fire
  • Open-top chamber
  • Plant-climate interactions
  • Vegetation dynamics