Direct and indirect effects of climate change on a prairie plant community

Peter B. Adler, James Leiker, Jonathan M. Levine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


Background: Climate change directly affects species by altering their physical environment and indirectly affects species by altering interspecific interactions such as predation and competition. Recent studies have shown that the indirect effects of climate change may amplify or counteract the direct effects. However, little is known about the the relative strength of direct and indirect effects or their potential to impact population persistence. Methodology/Principal Findings: We studied the effects of altered precipitation and interspecific interactions on the low-density tiller growth rates and biomass production of three perennial grass species in a Kansas, USA mixed prairie. We transplanted plugs of each species into local neighborhoods of heterospecific competitors and then exposed the plugs to a factorial manipulation of growing season precipitation and neighbor removal. Precipitation treatments had significant direct effects on two of the three species. Interspecific competition also had strong effects, reducing low-density tiller growth rates and aboveground biomass production for all three species. In fact, in the presence of competitors, (log) tiller growth rates were close to or below zero for all three species. However, we found no convincing evidence that per capita competitive effects changed with precipitation, as shown by a lack of significant precipitation × competition interactions. Conclusions/Significance: We found little evidence that altered precipitation will influence per capita competitive effects. However, based on species' very low growth rates in the presence of competitors in some precipitation treatments, interspecific interactions appear strong enough to affect the balance between population persistence and local extinction. Therefore, ecological forecasting models should include the effect of interspecific interactions on population growth, even if such interaction coefficients are treated as constants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere6887
JournalPloS one
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 3 2009
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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