Question: How does climate change influence plant species population dynamics, their time to extinction, and proportion of occupied habitats in a fragmented landscape?
Location: Germany and Central European lowland.
Methods: We apply a mechanistic general simulation model to test the response of plant functional types to direct and indirect effects of climate change. Three functional types were chosen to represent a set of well-studied perennial plant species: Juncus atratus, Gentiana pneumonanthe and Primula veris. We link local population dynamics within a heterogeneous, fragmented landscape context. “Species spheres”, i.e. multi-dimensional parameter ranges rather than single parameter realizations, based on field and literature data served as proxy for life stage transition parameters. Four climatic scenarios summarizing different cumulative weather effects on demographic rates and different local disturbance frequencies were run. The model predicts “time to extinction” (TE) and “proportion of occupied habitat” (POH) as regional indicators for species extinction risk.
Results: TE decreased for all species when weather conditions worsened, and even more so when the frequency of local destructive events additionally increased. However, management towards fewer disturbance events could buffer the negative effect of climate to some extent. The magnitude of these responses varied with species type. POH declined with an increase in bad weather as well as with increasing disturbance frequency. The better the climatic conditions, the less severe were disturbances on population performance.
Conclusions: The “species spheres” proved to be a valuable approach for predictive trends. As climate change usually also implies destructive events such as land-use change, flooding or fire, our model on local and regional extinction risks can support conservation issues and management actions.