The invasion of plant communities following extreme weather events under ambient and elevated temperature

Research paper by Christine S. Sheppard, Jake M. Alexander, Regula Billeter

Indexed on: 07 Jul '12Published on: 07 Jul '12Published in: Plant Ecology


Although the problem of plant invasions is expected to increase with climate change, there is as yet little experimental evidence, in particular, for the effects of extreme weather events. We established communities of European meadow species, which were subjected to warming and extreme event (drought and deluge) treatments in a factorial design at an experimental garden in Zurich, Switzerland. Phylogenetically matched pairs of native and alien species (Bromus erectus, B. inermis, Trifolium pratense,T. hybridum,Lactuca serriola, and Conyza canadensis) were introduced into the communities to test if invader performance is favored by warming and extreme events, and if alien invaders perform better than native colonizers. With a warming of on average 0.3 °C, a higher cover of native plant communities was observed, while drought decreased cover in the short-term and lowered biomass. Germination, survival, and growth of the introduced species were lower under elevated temperature. Survival of all pairs and growth of Trifolium was greater in drought pots, while deluge had no effect. While the alien species showed a faster rate of increase in the number of leaves, mortality of alien species was greater than of native species. Overall, the performance of the focal species varied much more among taxonomic groups than native/alien provenances. The results suggest that with climate change, different types of extreme events will differ in the severity of their effects on native plant communities. Meanwhile, the effects of climate change on plant invasions are more likely to operate indirectly through the impacts on native vegetation.