Impacts of extreme climatic events on competition during grassland invasions


B. D. Campbell, fax + 64/63518032, e-mail


Phytometers of five C3 and five C4 species were transplanted into three different grasslands to study the effects of extreme climatic events on community invasibility and competition. Single extreme heating (eight hours at 52.5 °C) and rainfall (the equivalent of 100 mm) events in factorial combinations were superimposed on the grassland communities. A novel technique involving portable computer-controlled chambers was used to create the heating events. In order to generate predictions of response to the extreme climatic events, the 10 phytometer species were categorized on the basis of 12 key plant functional traits. Using principal component analysis, two functional types (FTs) were identified as most likely to be advantaged (FT1, fast-growing C4 annuals) and disadvantaged (FT2, slower-growing C3 perennials) by an extreme climatic event. Competition between the resident vegetation and FT1 plus other C4 phytometers was consistently more intense within the exclusively C3 community compared to the dry C3/C4 community or moist C3/C4 community. The single extreme heating event had the greatest impact on competition, lowering the intensity of competition between the phytometers and resident vegetation. Our results indicate that competition is highly important in limiting the invasion of C3 grasslands by C4 species. The FT1 and FT2 responses confirmed predictions based on plant functional traits, whether growing as phytometers or as part of the resident vegetation. Future increases in climatic variability and the incidence of extreme climatic events are expected to suppress C3 competitive dominance and promote invasion of C4 species, in particular, the FT1 species.