Question: The majority of studies investigating the impact of climate change on local plant communities ignores changes in regional processes, such as immigration from the regional seed pool. Here we explore: (i) the potential impact of climate change on composition of the regional seed pool, (ii) the influence of changes in climate and in the regional seed pool on local community structure, and (iii) the combinations of life history traits, i.e. plant functional types (PFTs), that are most affected by environmental changes.
Location: Fire-prone, Mediterranean-type shrublands in southwestern Australia.
Methods: Spatially explicit simulation experiments were conducted at the population level under different rainfall and fire regime scenarios to determine the effect of environmental change on the regional seed pool for 38 PFTs. The effects of environmental and seed immigration changes on local community dynamics were then derived from community-level experiments. Classification tree analyses were used to investigate PFT-specific vulnerabilities to climate change.
Results: The classification tree analyses revealed that responses of PFTs to climate change are determined by specific trait characteristics. PFT-specific seed production and community patterns responded in a complex manner to climate change. For example, an increase in annual rainfall caused an increase in numbers of dispersed seeds for some PFTs, but decreased PFT diversity in the community. Conversely, a simulated decrease in rainfall reduced the number of dispersed seeds and diversity of PFTs.
Conclusions: PFT interactions and regional processes must be considered when assessing how local community structure will be affected by environmental change.