Functional consequences of climate-change induced plant species loss in a tallgrass prairie

TitleFunctional consequences of climate-change induced plant species loss in a tallgrass prairie
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsCraine, JM, Nippert, JB, Towne, EG, Tucker, S, Kembel, SW, Skibbe, AM, McLauchlan, KK
Pagination1109 -1117
Accession NumberKNZ001367
Keywordsbiogeography, Climate change, Functional traits, Grasslands, Konza Prairie

Future climate change is likely to reduce the floristic diversity of grasslands. Yet the potential consequences of climate-induced plant species losses for the functioning of these ecosystems are poorly understood. We investigated how climate change might alter the functional composition of grasslands for Konza Prairie, a diverse tallgrass prairie in central North America. With species-specific climate envelopes, we show that a reduction in mean annual precipitation would preferentially remove species that are more abundant in the more productive lowland positions at Konza. As such, decreases in precipitation could reduce productivity not only by reducing water availability but by also removing species that inhabit the most productive areas and respond the most to climate variability. In support of this prediction, data on species abundance at Konza over 16 years show that species that are more abundant in lowlands than uplands are preferentially reduced in years with low precipitation. Climate change is likely to also preferentially remove species from particular functional groups and clades. For example, warming is forecast to preferentially remove perennials over annuals as well as Cyperaceae species. Despite these predictions, climate change is unlikely to unilaterally alter the functional composition of the tallgrass prairie flora, as many functional traits such as physiological drought tolerance and maximum photosynthetic rates showed little relationship with climate envelope parameters. In all, although climatic drying would indirectly alter grassland productivity through species loss patterns, the insurance afforded by biodiversity to ecosystem function is likely to be sustained in the face of climate change.