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The responses of grassland plants to experimentally simulated climate change depend on land use and region


Correspondence: Astrid Bütof, tel. + 49 345 552 6198, fax + 49 345 552 7228, e-mail:


Macroclimatic niche properties derived from species distribution ranges are fundamental for projections of climate change impacts on biodiversity. However, it has been recognized that changes in regional or local distribution patterns also depend on interactions with land use. The reliability and transferability of large scale geographic predictions to small scale plant performance need to be tested experimentally. Thus, we asked how grassland plant species pairs with different macroclimatic niche properties respond to increased spring temperature and decrease summer precipitation in three different land-use types. An experiment was carried out in the framework of the German Biodiversity Exploratories simulating climate change in 45 experimental plots in three geographical regions (Schorfheide-Chorin, Hainich-Dün, Schwäbische Alb) and three grassland management types (meadow, pasture, mown pasture). We planted six plant species as phytometers, each two of them representing congeneric species with contrasting macroclimatic niches and recorded plant survival and growth over 1 year. To quantify the species macroclimatic niches with respect to drought tolerance, the species’ distribution ranges were mapped and combined with global climate data. The simulated climate change had a general negative effect on plant survival and plant growth, irrespective of the macroclimatic niche characteristics of the species. Against expectation, species with ranges extending into drier regions did not generally perform better under drier conditions. Growth performance and survival was best in mown pastures, representing a quite intensive type of land use in all study regions. Species with higher macroclimatic drought tolerance were generally characterized by lower growth rates and higher survival rates in land-use types with regular mowing regimes, probably because of reduced competition in the growing season. In conclusion, plant species with similar climatic niche characteristics cannot be expected to respond consistently over different regions owing to complex interactions of climate change with land use practices.

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