Ecological lags govern the pace and outcome of plant community responses to 21st-century climate change

Sebastián Block, Marc Jacques Maechler, Jacob I. Levine, Jake M. Alexander, Loïc Pellissier, Jonathan M. Levine

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Forecasting the trajectories of species assemblages in response to ongoing climate change requires quantifying the time lags in the demographic and ecological processes through which climate impacts species' abundances. Since experimental climate manipulations are typically abrupt, the observed species responses may not match their responses to gradual climate change. We addressed this problem by transplanting alpine grassland turfs to lower elevations, recording species' demographic responses to climate and competition, and using these data to parameterise community dynamics models forced by scenarios of gradual climate change. We found that shifts in community structure following an abrupt climate manipulation were not simply accelerated versions of shifts expected under gradual warming, as the former missed the transient rise of species benefiting from moderate warming. Time lags in demography and species interactions controlled the pace and trajectory of changing species' abundances under simulated 21st-century climate change, and thereby prevented immediate diversity loss.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2156-2166
Number of pages11
JournalEcology letters
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


  • alpine plants
  • competition
  • demography
  • disequilibrium dynamics
  • thermophilisation
  • time lags
  • transient dynamics
  • transplant experiment


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