Community change and species richness reductions in rapidly advancing tree lines



Greenwood S, Chen J, Chen C & Jump A (2016) Community change and species richness reductions in rapidly advancing tree lines. Journal of Biogeography, 43 (11), pp. 2274-2284.

Aim: Climate change is causing shifts in the range of species worldwide. In high altitude areas forests are often observed to be shifting their upper limits to higher altitudes in response to warming temperatures. Although this phenomenon is well described, the possible consequences of this for the wider forest community have not been fully considered. In this study we use epiphytic macro-lichens to investigate the impacts of treeline advance on associated organisms. We hypothesized that the rate of forest advance should influence the species richness and composition of associated communities.  Location: The Hehuanshan area, Central Mountain Range, Taiwan (24°08–09’ N, 121°15 – 16’ E).  Methods: Lichen communities were sampled on trees occurring at 33 treeline sites displaying varying degrees of advance. Habitat variables were recorded. ANOVA, GLMM, nestedness analysis and indicator species analysis were used to investigate patterns of species richness and community composition and their association with treeline advance and habitat variables.  Results: Species richness was lower in treelines exhibiting rapid advance; reductions were related to tree size (considered here as a proxy for age) and the distance over which advance had occurred. Community composition varied with treeline form and forest position. Only a subset of species found in slowly advancing or stable forest edges occurred in rapidly advancing treelines.  Main conclusions: Differential migration rates between co-occurring species and differences in habitat structure associated with treeline advance can result in community change, but this depends, amongst other factors, on the speed of treeline advance. The importance of advance rate in determining the response suggests that reductions in species richness at treeline could be transitory. However, this will depend on whether advance continues, and on the changes in habitat associated with advance. Given the complexity of treeline behaviour, the findings that we report represent an essential step in understanding community responses to climate change. This understanding is of importance for biodiversity and conservation, especially given the high rate of endemism reported for this and other alpine regions.

Abies kawakamii; climate change; GLMM; macro-lichens; response lag; species distributions; Taiwan

Journal of Biogeography: Volume 43, Issue 11

Publication date30/11/2016
Publication date online22/06/2016
Date accepted by journal10/03/2016

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Professor Alistair Jump
Professor Alistair Jump

Dean of Natural Sciences, NS Management and Support

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