Reassembling Ohio’s Plant Communities: The Consequences of Climate Change
Like people at a buffet, there’s an advantage to arriving early to the party if you’re a plant. Early arriving plant species get easy access to essential resources including light, water and nutrients, and can make it difficult for later-arriving species to gain a foothold in a newly developing plant community. These sorts of dynamics are especially important when plants are colonizing newly available space. In Northeast Ohio, these early competitive interactions can drive the types of species present in the plant communities that develop on abandoned farmland. These old fields serve as important wildlife habitat but are often dominated by exotic plant species, originating in places like Europe and Asia. Exotic plants tend to have an advantage over many native plants in old field habitats where they tend to arrive earlier and grow faster. But, how will these species respond to a warming climate and might changes in the climate reshape our old field communities?
Holden Forests & Gardens scientists, in collaboration with Sara Kuebbing, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh, are beginning a new research program to explore how climate change may start reshaping our natural areas by changing how quickly plants arrive in these communities, how quickly they grow once they arrive and how much they change the soil. One concern is that climate change might further promote the dominance of exotic plants in our old field habitats.
Working with volunteers, undergraduates and interns, we’ve been hard at work exposing plants to warmer temperatures and new competitors to explore the mechanisms of future change to our natural areas.
We hope that the findings of this research will be used to develop new recommendations for the restoration of our natural areas, tailored to warmer climates. Understanding the mechanisms promoting the invasion of exotic species now and into the future will provide insights into how to best combat them.