Phenotypic distribution models corroborate species distribution models: A shift in the role and prevalence of a dominant prairie grass in response to climate change

TitlePhenotypic distribution models corroborate species distribution models: A shift in the role and prevalence of a dominant prairie grass in response to climate change
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsSmith, AB, Alsdurf, J, Knapp, M, Baer, SG, Johnson, LC
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Volume23
Issue10
Pagination4365–4375
Abstract

Phenotypic distribution within species can vary widely across environmental gradients but forecasts of species’ responses to environmental change often assume species respond homogenously across their ranges. We compared predictions from species and phenotype distribution models under future climate scenarios for Andropogon gerardii, a widely distributed, dominant grass found throughout the central United States. Phenotype data on aboveground biomass, height, leaf width, and chlorophyll content were obtained from 33 populations spanning a ~1000 km gradient that encompassed the majority of the species’ environmental range. Species and phenotype distribution models were trained using current climate conditions and projected to future climate scenarios. We used permutation procedures to infer the most important variable for each model. The species-level response to climate was most sensitive to maximum temperature of the hottest month, but phenotypic variables were most sensitive to mean annual precipitation. The phenotype distribution models predict that A. gerardii could be largely functionally eliminated from where this species currently dominates, with biomass and height declining by up to ~60% and leaf width by ~20%. By the 2070s, the core area of highest suitability for A. gerardii is projected to shift up to ~700 km northeastward. Further, short-statured phenotypes found in the present-day short grass prairies on the western periphery of the species’ range will become favored in the current core ~800 km eastward of their current location. Combined, species and phenotype models predict this currently dominant prairie grass will decline in prevalence and stature. Thus, sourcing plant material for grassland restoration and forage should consider changes in the phenotype that will be favored under future climate conditions. Phenotype distribution models account for the role of intraspecific variation in determining responses to anticipated climate change and thereby complement predictions from species distributions models in guiding climate adaptation strategies.

DOI10.1111/gcb.13666