Climate change impacts on ecosystem functioning: evidence from an Empetrum heathland
Article first published online: 11 OCT 2011
© 2011 The Authors. New Phytologist © 2011 New Phytologist Trust
Volume 193, Issue 1, pages 150–164, January 2012
How to Cite
Jeffers, E. S., Bonsall, M. B., Watson, J. E. and Willis, K. J. (2012), Climate change impacts on ecosystem functioning: evidence from an Empetrum heathland. New Phytologist, 193: 150–164. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-8137.2011.03907.x
- Issue published online: 2 DEC 2011
- Article first published online: 11 OCT 2011
- Received: 11 August 2011, Accepted: 23 August 2011
- Betula (birch);
- climate warming;
- deciduous shrub encroachment;
- ecosystem processes;
- Empetrum (crowberry);
- fire dynamics;
- nitrogen (N) cycling
- •The extent to which plants exert an influence over ecosystem processes, such as nitrogen cycling and fire regimes, is still largely unknown. It is also unclear how such processes may be dependent on the prevailing environmental conditions.
- •Here, we applied mechanistic models of plant–environment interactions to palaeoecological time series data to determine the most likely functional relationships of Empetrum (crowberry) and Betula (birch) with millennial-scale changes in climate, fire activity, nitrogen cycling and herbivore density in an Irish heathland.
- •Herbivory and fire activity preferentially removed Betula from the landscape. Empetrum had a positive feedback on fire activity, but the effect of Betula was slightly negative. Nitrogen cycling was not strongly controlled by plant population dynamics. Betula had a greater temperature-dependent population growth rate than Empetrum; thus climate warming promoted Betula expansion into the heathland and this led to reduced fire activity and greater herbivory, which further reinforced Betula dominance.
- •Differences in population growth response to warming were responsible for an observed shift to an alternative community state with contrasting forms of ecosystem functioning. Self-reinforcing feedback mechanisms – which often protect plant communities from invasion – may therefore be sensitive to climate warming, particularly in arctic regions that are dominated by cold-adapted plant populations.