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Climate and soil texture influence patterns of forb species richness and composition in big sagebrush plant communities across their spatial extent in the western U.S.
- Pennington, Victoria E., Palmquist, Kyle A., Bradford, John B., Lauenroth, William K.
- Plant ecology 2017 v.218 no.8 pp. 957-970
- Artemisia tridentata, climate, ecological function, ecosystems, environmental factors, forbs, graminoids, multidimensional scaling, overstory, plant available water, plant communities, principal component analysis, shrubs, soil texture, species diversity, steppes, understory, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Wyoming
- Big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata Nutt.) plant communities are widespread in western North America and, similar to all shrub steppe ecosystems worldwide, are composed of a shrub overstory layer and a forb and graminoid understory layer. Forbs account for the majority of plant species diversity in big sagebrush plant communities and are important for ecosystem function. Few studies have explored geographic patterns of forb species richness and composition and their relationships with environmental variables in these communities. Our objectives were to examine the fine and broad-scale spatial patterns in forb species richness and composition and the influence of environmental variables. We sampled forb species richness and composition along transects at 15 field sites in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming, built species-area relationships to quantify differences in forb species richness at sites, and used Principal Components Analysis, non-metric multidimensional scaling, and redundancy analysis to identify relationships among environmental variables and forb species richness and composition. We found that species richness was most strongly correlated with soil texture, while species composition was most related to climate. The combination of climate and soil texture influences water availability, which our results indicate has important consequences for forb species richness and composition, and suggests that climate change-induced modification of soil water availability may have important implications for plant species diversity in the future.