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Plant diversity threatened by climate change and buildup of greenhouse gas, study reveals

the dry California summer: "We think the effects of elevated CO2 and increased precipitation were more or less the same, but because they were separated in time by a couple of weeks, they actually produced opposite results. In our ecosystem here, things that happen at different times in the season are really important."

The study also revealed that heat in the absence of other treatments had no significant impact on diversity. However, when experimental plots were exposed to higher temperatures along with excess nitrogen, carbon dioxide and water, the number of wildflower species plummeted.

"One take-home message of our study is that certain kinds of species are much more sensitive to climate and atmospheric changes than others," Zavaleta observed.

"It turned out that wildflowers were much more sensitive to the treatments than grasses were, no matter what combination of treatments we tried," she added, noting that a large-scale change in diversity could diminish the ability of grasslands to support birds, deer, butterflies and other wildlife as well as commercial grazing.

Additive response

The researchers discovered that they could make remarkably accurate predictions of species diversity in plots where multiple treatments had been applied simply by adding up losses and gains observed under single treatments. For example, in quadrants receiving excess nitrogen, heat and CO2, wildflower diversity decreased by about 27 percent - almost exactly what would be expected if you added up the percentages of loss in quadrants given single treatments of CO2 (18 percent), nitrogen (8 percent) and heat (2 percent).

"One possible reason we see this overall additive response is that the mechanisms that are driving the changes are not interacting," Field said a finding that could prove beneficial in forecasting how global environmental changes will affect plant diversity in other ecosystems.

"We hope to move into the
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Contact: Mark Shwartz
mshwartz@stanford.edu
650-723-9296
Stanford University
16-Jun-2003


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