U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research

PI-Submitted Research Highlights for
Terrestrial Ecosystem Science Program

Climate Warming Could Cause Plants and Soils to Become Out of Sync on Mountaintops Globally

Aimee T. Classen
University of Vermont

Highlight

I own this picture. It was taken while sampling one of the Colorado gradients in this paper. 

13 February, 2017
Plants and soil microorganisms may be altered by climate warming at different rates and in different ways, meaning important nutrient patterns would be misaligned.

The Science                       
Warmer climates on mountaintops will alter the activity of plants and soil microbes, which can alter availability and movement of important nutrients such as nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), and carbon (C). N, P and C cycles may become out of step with their historic patterns at high elevations, which could severely impact the plants that have evolved under those patterns.

The Impact
We show that, in many mountain ecosystems around the world, N and P cycles at warmer, low elevations are becoming decoupled, while they are constrained at higher, cool, elevations. This suggests that plants will not be able to “march up the mountainside” when it warms, as many models predict. Mountains are biodiversity hotspots and provide numerous important human services such as clean drinking water; this paper shows how mountain ecosystems around the world may respond to warming in the future.

Summary
Despite interest in how climate warming affects ecological processes, remarkably little is known about whether similar types of ecosystems respond to warming in different locations. We show, through comparing seven replicated temperate treeline ecotones worldwide, that comparable changes to temperature affect plant community-level nutrient dynamics in remarkably similar ways across contrasting regions. Notably, we reveal that despite broad differences in regional floras and geologies, that declining temperatures at high elevations universally constrained plant nutrient dynamics — a finding with broad global change implications given the high risk that alpine environments face under global climate change.

Contacts (BER PM)
Daniel Stover and Jared DeForest
SC-23.1
Daniel.Stover@science.doe.gov (301-903-0289) and Jared.DeForest@science.doe.gov (301-903-1678)

(PI Contact)
Aimee T. Classen        
University of Vermont
Aimee.Classen@uvm.edu

Funding
This work was made possible by a Wallenberg Scholars Award to D.A.W.; regional support from Fondecyt 1120171 to A.F.; a National Science Foundation Dimensions of Biodiversity grant (NSF-1136703), a grant from the Carlsberg Fund, and support from the Danish National Research Foundation to the Center for Macroecology, Evolution, and Climate to N.J.S.; a US Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research, Terrestrial Ecosystem Sciences Program Award (DE-SC0010562) to A.T.C.; support from the UK Natural Environment Research Council to R.D.B.; support from the BiodivERsA project REGARDS (ANR-12-EBID-004-01) to J.-C.C., S.L., K.G. and REGARDS (FWF-I-1056) to M.B.; support from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (VENI 451-14-017) to D.L.O.; and, support from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada to Z.G.

Publications
J. Mayor et al., “Elevation alters ecosystem properties across temperate treelines globally.” Nature 542, 91-95 (2017)

This work was made possible by a Wallenberg Scholars Award to D.A.W.; regional support from Fondecyt 1120171 to A.F.; a National Science Foundation Dimensions of Biodiversity grant (NSF-1136703), a grant from the Carlsberg Fund, and support from the Danish National Research Foundation to the Center for Macroecology, Evolution, and Climate to N.J.S.; a US Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research, Terrestrial Ecosystem Sciences Program Award (DE-SC0010562) to A.T.C.; support from the UK Natural Environment Research Council to R.D.B.; support from the BiodivERsA project REGARDS (ANR-12-EBID-004-01) to J.-C.C., S.L., K.G. and REGARDS (FWF-I-1056) to M.B.; support from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (VENI 451-14-017) to D.L.O.; and, support from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada to Z.G. 

Search TES PI-Submitted Highlights

  • Search

Highlight Submission