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Translocation of a montane meadow to simulate the potential impact of climate change

Bruelheide, Helge
Applied vegetation science 2003 v.6 no.1 pp. 23-34
Arnica montana, Festuca rubra, Galium, Hypericum, Nardus stricta, Poa, Polygonatum, Viola, altitude, biomass, climate change, extinction, herbivores, humidity, lawns and turf, meadows, mineralization, prediction, slugs, soil, species diversity, temperature, Europe
The effects of warming on a montane meadow was simulated by a translocation experiment. A coherent piece of turf and soil was transferred from 600 m to 170 m a.s.l., corresponding to an increase in temperature of ca. 2.8 K. The vegetation was monitored by recording cover and counting individuals one year before the translocation and continued for the subsequent seven years. For comparison, a control plot that had also been translocated but remained at 600 m was monitored. Four of eight species with a montane distribution in Europe showed a constant degree of cover during the investigation period (Nardus stricta, Poa chaixii, Polygonatum verticillatum, Potentilla erecta). In contrast, another four montane species declined in cover or died out (Arnica montana, Meum athamanticum, Hypericum maculatum, Galium harcynicum). None of these species declined on the control plot. It is argued that the species' responded individualistically to the site factors that had changed with the translocation to low altitude. A direct effect of enhanced temperature was probably the reason for the decline of only one species (Meum athamanticum). Reduced humidity might be the reason for the extinction of two moisture demanding species (Viola palustris, Succisa pratensis). The biomass of the plot increased by increased growth of one of the matrix species (Festuca rubra), probably due to elevated nutrient mineralization. Many low growing species responded indirectly to the reduced light availability, caused by an increased level of competition for light (e.g. Galium harcynicum). Increased slug herbivory at low altitude resulted in the extinction of Arnica montana. At the end of the investigation period, the similarity in species composition to the initial state was only 45%, indicating that the community had changed into a different plant association. The importance of considering biotic interactions when predicting the impacts of climate change is discussed.Nomenclature: Phanerogams according to Ehrendorfer (1973); mosses according to Frahm & Frey (1987).Abbreviations: AFE = Atlas Florae Europaeae; RGR = Relative growth rate.