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Keywords:

  • community composition;
  • diversity;
  • drought;
  • elevated [CO2];
  • Lespedeza cuneata;
  • old-fields;
  • precipitation;
  • soil moisture;
  • temperature;
  • warming

Abstract

Atmospheric and climatic change can alter plant biomass production and plant community composition. However, we know little about how climate change-induced alterations in biomass production affect plant species composition. To better understand how climate change will alter both individual plant species and community biomass, we manipulated atmospheric [CO2], air temperature, and precipitation in a constructed old-field ecosystem. Specifically, we compared the responses of dominant and subdominant species to our climatic treatments, and explored how changes in plant dominance patterns alter community evenness over 2 years. Our study resulted in four major findings: (1) all treatments, elevated [CO2], warming, and increased precipitation increased plant community biomass and the effects were additive rather than interactive, (2) plant species differed in their response to the treatments, resulting in shifts in the proportional biomass of individual species, which altered the plant community composition; however, the plant community response was largely driven by the positive precipitation response of Lespedeza, the most dominant species in the community, (3) precipitation explained most of the variation in plant community composition among treatments, and (4) changes in precipitation caused a shift in the dominant species proportional biomass that resulted in lower community evenness in the wet relative to dry treatments. Interestingly, compositional and evenness responses of the subdominant community to the treatments did not always follow the responses of the whole plant community. Our data suggest that changes in plant dominance patterns and community evenness are an important part of community responses to climatic change, and generally, that such compositional shifts can alter ecosystem biomass production and nutrient inputs.