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  1. Abstract

    Global change is impacting plant community composition, but the mechanisms underlying these changes are unclear. Using a dataset of 58 global change experiments, we tested the five fundamental mechanisms of community change: changes in evenness and richness, reordering, species gains and losses. We found 71% of communities were impacted by global change treatments, and 88% of communities that were exposed to two or more global change drivers were impacted. Further, all mechanisms of change were equally likely to be affected by global change treatments—species losses and changes in richness were just as common as species gains and reordering. We also found no evidence of a progression of community changes, for example, reordering and changes in evenness did not precede species gains and losses. We demonstrate that all processes underlying plant community composition changes are equally affected by treatments and often occur simultaneously, necessitating a wholistic approach to quantifying community changes.

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  2. Abstract

    Understanding the complex and unpredictable ways ecosystems are changing and predicting the state of ecosystems and the services they will provide in the future requires coordinated, long‐term research. This paper is a product of a U.S. National Science Foundation funded Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) network synthesis effort that addressed anticipated changes in future populations and communities. Each LTER site described what their site would look like in 50 or 100 yr based on long‐term patterns and responses to global change drivers in each ecosystem. Common themes emerged and predictions were grouped into state change, connectivity, resilience, time lags, and cascading effects. Here, we report on the “state change” theme, which includes examples from the Georgia Coastal (coastal marsh), Konza Prairie (mesic grassland), Luquillo (tropical forest), Sevilleta (arid grassland), and Virginia Coastal (coastal grassland) sites. Ecological thresholds (the point at which small changes in an environmental driver can produce an abrupt and persistent state change in an ecosystem quality, property, or phenomenon) were most commonly predicted. For example, in coastal ecosystems, sea‐level rise and climate change could convert salt marsh to mangroves and coastal barrier dunes to shrub thicket. Reduced fire frequency has converted grassland to shrubland in mesic prairie, whereas overgrazing combined with drought drive shrub encroachment in arid grasslands. Lastly, tropical cloud forests are susceptible to climate‐induced changes in cloud base altitude leading to shifts in species distributions. Overall, these examples reveal that state change is a likely outcome of global environmental change across a diverse range of ecosystems and highlight the need for long‐term studies to sort out the causes and consequences of state change. The diversity of sites within the LTER network facilitates the emergence of overarching concepts about state changes as an important driver of ecosystem structure, function, services, and futures.

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  3. null (Ed.)
  4. Global change drivers (GCDs) are expected to alter community structure and consequently, the services that ecosystems provide. Yet, few experimental investigations have examined effects of GCDs on plant community structure across multiple ecosystem types, and those that do exist present conflicting patterns. In an unprecedented global synthesis of over 100 experiments that manipulated factors linked to GCDs, we show that herbaceous plant community responses depend on experimental manipulation length and number of factors manipulated. We found that plant communities are fairly resistant to experimentally manipulated GCDs in the short term (<10 y). In contrast, long-term (≥10 y) experiments show increasing community divergence of treatments from control conditions. Surprisingly, these community responses occurred with similar frequency across the GCD types manipulated in our database. However, community responses were more common when 3 or more GCDs were simultaneously manipulated, suggesting the emergence of additive or synergistic effects of multiple drivers, particularly over long time periods. In half of the cases, GCD manipulations caused a difference in community composition without a corresponding species richness difference, indicating that species reordering or replacement is an important mechanism of community responses to GCDs and should be given greater consideration when examining consequences of GCDs for the biodiversity–ecosystem function relationship. Human activities are currently driving unparalleled global changes worldwide. Our analyses provide the most comprehensive evidence to date that these human activities may have widespread impacts on plant community composition globally, which will increase in frequency over time and be greater in areas where communities face multiple GCDs simultaneously. 
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