skip to main content

Title: Climate Change, Ecosystem Processes and Biological Diversity Responses in High Elevation Communities
The populations, species, and communities in high elevation mountainous regions at or above tree line are being impacted by the changing climate. Mountain systems have been recognized as both resilient and extremely threatened by climate change, requiring a more nuanced understanding of potential trajectories of the biotic communities. For high elevation systems in particular, we need to consider how the interactions among climate drivers and topography currently structure the diversity, species composition, and life-history strategies of these communities. Further, predicting biotic responses to changing climate requires knowledge of intra- and inter-specific climate associations within the context of topographically heterogenous landscapes. Changes in temperature, snow, and rain characteristics at regional scales are amplified or attenuated by slope, aspect, and wind patterns occurring at local scales that are often under a hectare or even a meter in extent. Community assemblages are structured by the soil moisture and growing season duration at these local sites, and directional climate change has the potential to alter these two drivers together, independently, or in opposition to one another due to local, intervening variables. Changes threaten species whose water and growing season duration requirements are locally extirpated or species who may be outcompeted by nearby faster-growing, warmer/drier more » adapted species. However, barring non-analogue climate conditions, species may also be able to more easily track required resource regimes in topographically heterogenous landscapes. New species arrivals composed of competitors, predators and pathogens can further mediate the direct impacts of the changing climate. Plants are moving uphill, demonstrating primary succession with the emergence of new habitats from snow and rock, but these shifts are constrained over the short term by soil limitations and microbes and ultimately by the lack of colonizable terrestrial surfaces. Meanwhile, both subalpine herbaceous and woody species pose threats to more cold-adapted species. Overall, the multiple interacting direct and indirect effects of the changing climate on high elevation systems may lead to multiple potential trajectories for these systems. « less
Authors:
;
Award ID(s):
1637686
Publication Date:
NSF-PAR ID:
10301465
Journal Name:
Climate
Volume:
9
Issue:
5
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
87
ISSN:
2225-1154
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract
    Excessive phosphorus (P) applications to croplands can contribute to eutrophication of surface waters through surface runoff and subsurface (leaching) losses. We analyzed leaching losses of total dissolved P (TDP) from no-till corn, hybrid poplar (Populus nigra X P. maximowiczii), switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), miscanthus (Miscanthus giganteus), native grasses, and restored prairie, all planted in 2008 on former cropland in Michigan, USA. All crops except corn (13 kg P ha−1 year−1) were grown without P fertilization. Biomass was harvested at the end of each growing season except for poplar. Soil water at 1.2 m depth was sampled weekly to biweekly for TDP determination during March–November 2009–2016 using tension lysimeters. Soil test P (0–25 cm depth) was measured every autumn. Soil water TDP concentrations were usually below levels where eutrophication of surface waters is frequently observed (> 0.02 mg L−1) but often higher than in deep groundwater or nearby streams and lakes. Rates of P leaching, estimated from measured concentrations and modeled drainage, did not differ statistically among cropping systems across years; 7-year cropping system means ranged from 0.035 to 0.072 kg P ha−1 year−1 with large interannual variation. Leached P was positively related to STP, which decreased over the 7 years in all systems. These results indicate that both P-fertilized and unfertilized cropping systems mayMore>>
  2. Glaciers are important drivers of environmental heterogeneity and biological diversity across mountain landscapes. Worldwide, glaciers are receding rapidly due to climate change, with important consequences for biodiversity in mountain ecosystems. However, the effects of glacier loss on biodiversity have never been quantified across a mountainous region, primarily due to a lack of adequate data at large spatial and temporal scales. Here, we combine high-resolution biological and glacier change (ca. 1850–2015) datasets for Glacier National Park, USA, to test the prediction that glacier retreat reduces biodiversity in mountain ecosystems through the loss of uniquely adapted meltwater stream species. We identified a specialized cold-water invertebrate community restricted to the highest elevation streams primarily below glaciers, but also snowfields and groundwater springs. We show that this community and endemic species have unexpectedly persisted in cold, high-elevation sites, even in catchments that have not been glaciated in ∼170 y. Future projections suggest substantial declines in suitable habitat, but not necessarily loss of this community with the complete disappearance of glaciers. Our findings demonstrate that high-elevation streams fed by snow and other cold-water sources continue to serve as critical climate refugia for mountain biodiversity even after glaciers disappear.
  3. Daily stream flow and groundwater dynamics in forested subalpine catchments during spring are to a large extent controlled by hydrological processes that respond to the day-night energy cycle. Diurnal snowmelt and transpiration events combine to induce pressure variations in the soil water storage that are propagated to the stream. In headwater catchments these pressure variations can account for a significant amount of the total pressure in the system and control the magnitude, duration, and timing of stream inflow pulses at daily scales, especially in low flow systems. Changes in the radiative balance at the top of the snowpack can alter the diurnal hydrologic dynamics of the hillslope-stream system with potential ecological and management consequences.

    We present a detailed hourly dataset of atmospheric, hillslope, and streamflow measurements collected during one melt season from a semi-alpine headwater catchment in western Montana, US. We use this dataset to investigate the timing, pattern, and linkages among snowmelt-dominated hydrologic processes and assess the role of the snowpack, transpiration, and hillslopes in mediating daily movements of water from the top of the snowpack to local stream systems. We found that the amount of snowpack cold content accumulated during the night, which must be overcome everymore »morning before snowmelt resumes, delayed water recharge inputs by up to 3 hours early in the melt season. These delays were further exacerbated by multi-day storms (cold fronts), which resulted in significant depletions in the soil and stream storages. We also found that both diurnal snowmelt and transpiration signals are present in the diurnal soil and stream storage fluctuations, although the individual contributions of these processes is difficult to discern. Our analysis showed that the hydrologic response of the snow-hillslope-stream system is highly sensitive to atmospheric drivers at hourly scales, and that variations in atmospheric energy inputs or other stresses are quickly transmitted and alter the intensity, duration and timing of snowmelt pulses and soil water extractions by vegetation, which ultimately drive variations in soil and stream water pressures.« less
  4. Abstract. During spring, daily stream flow and groundwater dynamics in forested subalpine catchmentsare to a large extent controlled by hydrological processes thatrespond to the day–night energy cycle. Diurnal snowmelt and transpirationevents combine to induce pressure variations in the soil water storage thatare propagated to the stream. In headwater catchments these pressurevariations can account for a significant amount of the total pressure in thesystem and control the magnitude, duration, and timing of stream inflowpulses at daily scales, especially in low-flow systems. Changes in theradiative balance at the top of the snowpack can alter the diurnal hydrologicdynamics of the hillslope–stream system, with potential ecological andmanagement consequences.

    We present a detailed hourly dataset of atmospheric, hillslope, andstreamflow measurements collected during one melt season from a semi-alpineheadwater catchment in western Montana, US. We use this dataset toinvestigate the timing, pattern, and linkages among snowmelt-dominatedhydrologic processes and assess the role of the snowpack, transpiration, andhillslopes in mediating daily movements of water from the top of the snowpackto local stream systems. We found that the amount of snowpack cold contentaccumulated during the night, which must be overcome every morning beforesnowmelt resumes, delayed water recharge inputs by up to 3h early in themelt season. These delaysmore »were further exacerbated by multi-day storms (coldfronts), which resulted in significant depletions in the soil and streamstorages. We also found that both diurnal snowmelt and transpiration signalsare present in the diurnal soil and stream storage fluctuations, although theindividual contributions of these processes are difficult to discern. Ouranalysis showed that the hydrologic response of the snow–hillslope–streamsystem is highly sensitive to atmospheric drivers at hourly scales and thatvariations in atmospheric energy inputs or other stresses are quicklytransmitted and alter the intensity, duration, and timing of snowmelt pulsesand soil water extractions by vegetation, which ultimately drive variationsin soil and stream water pressures.

    « less
  5. BACKGROUND The availability of nitrogen (N) to plants and microbes has a major influence on the structure and function of ecosystems. Because N is an essential component of plant proteins, low N availability constrains the growth of plants and herbivores. To increase N availability, humans apply large amounts of fertilizer to agricultural systems. Losses from these systems, combined with atmospheric deposition of fossil fuel combustion products, introduce copious quantities of reactive N into ecosystems. The negative consequences of these anthropogenic N inputs—such as ecosystem eutrophication and reductions in terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity—are well documented. Yet although N availability is increasing in many locations, reactive N inputs are not evenly distributed globally. Furthermore, experiments and theory also suggest that global change factors such as elevated atmospheric CO 2 , rising temperatures, and altered precipitation and disturbance regimes can reduce the availability of N to plants and microbes in many terrestrial ecosystems. This can occur through increases in biotic demand for N or reductions in its supply to organisms. Reductions in N availability can be observed via several metrics, including lowered nitrogen concentrations ([N]) and isotope ratios (δ 15 N) in plant tissue, reduced rates of N mineralization, and reduced terrestrial Nmore »export to aquatic systems. However, a comprehensive synthesis of N availability metrics, outside of experimental settings and capable of revealing large-scale trends, has not yet been carried out. ADVANCES A growing body of observations confirms that N availability is declining in many nonagricultural ecosystems worldwide. Studies have demonstrated declining wood δ 15 N in forests across the continental US, declining foliar [N] in European forests, declining foliar [N] and δ 15 N in North American grasslands, and declining [N] in pollen from the US and southern Canada. This evidence is consistent with observed global-scale declines in foliar δ 15 N and [N] since 1980. Long-term monitoring of soil-based N availability indicators in unmanipulated systems is rare. However, forest studies in the northeast US have demonstrated decades-long decreases in soil N cycling and N exports to air and water, even in the face of elevated atmospheric N deposition. Collectively, these studies suggest a sustained decline in N availability across a range of terrestrial ecosystems, dating at least as far back as the early 20th century. Elevated atmospheric CO 2 levels are likely a main driver of declines in N availability. Terrestrial plants are now uniformly exposed to ~50% more of this essential resource than they were just 150 years ago, and experimentally exposing plants to elevated CO 2 often reduces foliar [N] as well as plant-available soil N. In addition, globally-rising temperatures may raise soil N supply in some systems but may also increase N losses and lead to lower foliar [N]. Changes in other ecosystem drivers—such as local climate patterns, N deposition rates, and disturbance regimes—individually affect smaller areas but may have important cumulative effects on global N availability. OUTLOOK Given the importance of N to ecosystem functioning, a decline in available N is likely to have far-reaching consequences. Reduced N availability likely constrains the response of plants to elevated CO 2 and the ability of ecosystems to sequester carbon. Because herbivore growth and reproduction scale with protein intake, declining foliar [N] may be contributing to widely reported declines in insect populations and may be negatively affecting the growth of grazing livestock and herbivorous wild mammals. Spatial and temporal patterns in N availability are not yet fully understood, particularly outside of Europe and North America. Developments in remote sensing, accompanied by additional historical reconstructions of N availability from tree rings, herbarium specimens, and sediments, will show how N availability trajectories vary among ecosystems. Such assessment and monitoring efforts need to be complemented by further experimental and theoretical investigations into the causes of declining N availability, its implications for global carbon sequestration, and how its effects propagate through food webs. Responses will need to involve reducing N demand via lowering atmospheric CO 2 concentrations, and/or increasing N supply. Successfully mitigating and adapting to declining N availability will require a broader understanding that this phenomenon is occurring alongside the more widely recognized issue of anthropogenic eutrophication. Intercalibration of isotopic records from leaves, tree rings, and lake sediments suggests that N availability in many terrestrial ecosystems has steadily declined since the beginning of the industrial era. Reductions in N availability may affect many aspects of ecosystem functioning, including carbon sequestration and herbivore nutrition. Shaded areas indicate 80% prediction intervals; marker size is proportional to the number of measurements in each annual mean. Isotope data: (tree ring) K. K. McLauchlan et al. , Sci. Rep. 7 , 7856 (2017); (lake sediment) G. W. Holtgrieve et al. , Science 334 , 1545–1548 (2011); (foliar) J. M. Craine et al. , Nat. Ecol. Evol. 2 , 1735–1744 (2018)« less