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Climate warming threatens the persistence of a community of disturbance-adapted native annual plants

Reed, Paul; Bridgham, Scott; Pfeifer-Meister, Laurel; Peterson, Megan; Johnson, Bart; Roy, Bitty; Bailes, Graham; Nelson, Aaron; Morris, William; Doak, Daniel

With ongoing climate change, populations are expected to exhibit shifts in demographic performance that will alter where a species can persist. This presents unique challenges for managing plant populations and may require ongoing interventions, including in-situ management or introduction into new locations. However, few studies have examined how climate change may affect plant demographic performance for a suite of species, or how effective management actions could be in mitigating climate change effects. Over the course of two experiments spanning six years and four sites across a latitudinal gradient in the Pacific Northwest, USA, we manipulated temperature, precipitation, and disturbance intensity, and quantified effects on the demography of eight native annual prairie species. Each year we planted seeds and monitored germination, survival, and reproduction. We found that disturbance strongly influenced demographic performance and that seven of the eight species had increasingly poor performance with warmer conditions. Across species and sites, we observed 11% recruitment (the proportion of seeds planted that survived to reproduction) following high disturbance, but just 3.9% and 2.3% under intermediate and low disturbance, respectively. Moreover, mean seed production following high disturbance was often more than tenfold greater than under intermediate and low disturbance. Importantly, most species exhibited precipitous declines in their population growth rates (λ) under warmer-than-ambient experimental conditions and may require more frequent disturbance intervention to sustain populations. Aristida oligantha, a C4 grass, was the only species to have λ increase with warmer conditions. These results suggest that rising temperatures may cause many native annual plant species to decline, highlighting the urgency for adaptive management practices that facilitate their restoration or introduction to newly suitable locations. Frequent and intense disturbances are critical to reduce competitors and promote native annuals' persistence, but even such efforts may prove futile under future climate regimes.

The ReadMe file provides information about the column headers in each of the three data files. See methods section in manuscript for complete details regarding the data.

Funding provided by: National Science Foundation
Crossref Funder Registry ID:
Award Number: 1340847

Funding provided by: U.S. Department of Energy
Crossref Funder Registry ID:
Award Number: DE-FG02-09ER604719

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