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Consequences of altered precipitation, warming, and clipping for plant productivity, biodiversity, and grazing resources at three northern temperate grassland sites Open Access


Other title
climate change
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
White, Shannon R
Supervisor and department
Bork, Edward W (Agricultural, Food, and Nutritional Sciences)
Cahill, James F Jr (Biological Sciences)
Examining committee member and department
Mackenzie, M. Derek (Renewable Resources)
Vinebrooke, Rolf (Biological Sciences)
Henry, Greg (Geography)
Department of Biological Sciences
Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
There is limited understanding about how altered precipitation and warming associated with climate change affect grassland systems. Also, although grasslands commonly support herbivores, it is unclear how grazing influences responses to climate change. To address these knowledge gaps, I carried out a fully controlled and factorial three-year, multi-site experiment simulating climate change and grazing (via clipping). This experiment was conducted at three sites, chosen to broadly represent northern temperate grassland in the region, and each of Canada’s prairie provinces. I increased air temperature by 2-4°C, reduced precipitation by 60%, and clipped plants at low and high intensity. At one site, I also applied added (+60%) precipitation. I monitored an array of responses, including plant biomass and biodiversity, and grazing resources. Shoot biomass decreased strongly with reduced precipitation and clipping, and tended to decrease with warming. However, shifts in root: shoot ratio and associated root biomass responses enabled stability of total biomass. With respect to grazing resources, herbage availability and quality decreased with reduced precipitation and warming; decline in herbage availability was less pronounced with warming than reduced precipitation. To assess biodiversity responses, I evaluated indirect and direct treatment effects on species richness and evenness. Across sites, richness declined with environmental changes associated with all three treatments. However, evenness responses varied by site, and were overall more resistant. I also assessed changes in similarity between the seed bank and aboveground vegetation at one location. Precipitation and clipping affected similarity between the seed bank and vegetation, while warming did not. Across sites, responses were generally consistent, except for the driest site, which remained largely resistant to reduced precipitation. Generally, the grasslands were highly responsive to warming, altered precipitation, and clipping, with negative implications for ecosystem function and biodiversity. However, productivity and biodiversity responses were asynchronous; productivity was more responsive to precipitation and clipping, while richness was more sensitive to increased air temperature. As well, results suggest that management will not substantially influence responses to climate change. Overall, maintenance of total biomass suggests that ecosystem function is relatively resistant to climate change, but climate change has negative ramifications for biodiversity and grazing resources.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
Citation for previous publication
White SR, Bork EW, Karst J, and Cahill JF Jr. 2012. Community Ecology. 13(2):129-136.White SR, Carlyle CN, Fraser LH, and Cahill JF Jr. 2012. Climate change experiments in temperate grasslands: Synthesis and future directions. Biology Letters. 8(4):484-7.

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