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Short-term plant community responses to warming and defoliation in a northern temperate grassland

Deutsch, E.S., E.W. Bork, J.F. Cahill and S.X. Chang . 2011. ISRN Ecology. DOI:10.5402/2011/926061

Abstract

Little is known about the short-term impacts of warming on native plant community dynamics in the northern Canadian prairies. This study examined the immediate effects of elevated temperature and defoliation on plant community diversity, composition, and biomass within a native rough fescue (Festuca hallii (Vasey) Piper) grassland over two growing seasons. We used open-top chambers to simulate climate change and defoliated vegetation in midsummer of the first year to simulate biomass loss associated with periodic ungulate grazing. Warming marginally increased plant species diversity and changed community composition shortly after treatment, but effects were not apparent the second year, and there were no apparent impacts on plant biomass. Nonetheless, warming may have impacted community diversity indirectly through reduced soil moisture content, a pattern that persisted into the second year. Overall, this northern temperate grassland demonstrated limited community-level changes to warming even in the presence of defoliation.