Plant community response to climate change

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Understanding how ecological communities respond to changing climate is an important goal for plant ecologists. Our work asks how species’ responses to climate depends on their interactions with competitors.

In past research, we have explored the effect of altered precipitation regimes on competition between invasive grasses and native California plants. This and other work explores how climate alters the interaction between species that co-occur today, yet some of the most dramatic impacts of altered competition are expected when climate change forces the interaction between species with no prior ecological history.

In an ongoing project in the Swiss Alps, we are exploring how novel competitors that migrate into communities with changing climate alter plant population persistence. A second emphasis of our climate change work concerns the role of early season events in controlling population and community dynamics. In work over the last decade, we have explored how the timing and temperature of the first rain storm in California’s Mediterranean climate, or the date of snowmelt in the Swiss Alps determine plant species’ phenology, demography, and coexistence.


Key publications

Alexander, J.M., J.M. Diez, S.P. Hart, and J.M. Levine. 2016.
When climate reshuffles competitors: a call for experimental macroecology.
Trends in Ecology and Evolution 31:831-841.

Alexander, J.M., J.M. Diez, and J.M. Levine. 2015.
Novel competitors shape species’ responses to climate change.
Nature 525:515-518.

Moran, E.V. and J.M. Alexander. 2014.
Evolutionary responses to global change: lessons from invasive species.
Ecology Letters 17:637-649.

Levine, J.M., A.K. McEachern, and C. Cowan. 2011.
Seasonal timing of first rain storms affects rare plant population dynamics.
Ecology 92:2236-2247.

Levine, J.M., A.K. McEachern, and C. Cowan. 2010.
Do competitors modulate rare plant response to precipitation change?
Ecology 91:130-140.

Adler, P.B., J. HilleRisLambers, P. Kyriakidis, Q. Guan, and J.M. Levine. 2006. Climate variability has a stabilizing effect on the coexistence of prairie grasses. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 103:12793-12798.

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