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Keywords:

  • alpine meadow;
  • climate change;
  • flowering phenology;
  • Kobresia pygmaea ;
  • soil moisture

Abstract

Global climate change is predicted to have large impacts on the phenology and reproduction of alpine plants, which will have important implications for plant demography and community interactions, trophic dynamics, ecosystem energy balance, and human livelihoods. In this article we report results of a 3-year, fully factorial experimental study exploring how warming, snow addition, and their combination affect reproductive phenology, effort, and success of four alpine plant species belonging to three different life forms in a semiarid, alpine meadow ecosystem on the central Tibetan Plateau. Our results indicate that warming and snow addition change reproductive phenology and success, but responses are not uniform across species. Moreover, traits associated with resource acquisition, such as rooting depth and life history (early vs. late flowering), mediate plant phenology, and reproductive responses to changing climatic conditions. Specifically, we found that warming delayed the reproductive phenology and decreased number of inflorescences of Kobresia pygmaea C. B. Clarke, a shallow-rooted, early-flowering plant, which may be mainly constrained by upper-soil moisture availability. Because K. pygmaea is the dominant species in the alpine meadow ecosystem, these results may have important implications for ecosystem dynamics and for pastoralists and wildlife in the region.