Susan Harrison

University of California, Davis, Davis, California, United States

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Publications (67)412.86 Total impact

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    ABSTRACT: One important but largely unanswered question about floristic responses to climate change is how interactions such as competition, facilitation and plant–soil feedbacks will influence the ability of species to track shifting climates. In a rugged and moisture-limited region that has recently warmed by 2° (Siskiyou Mountains, OR, USA), we planted three species into cooler aspects and elevations than those they currently inhabit, with and without removal of neighbouring plants, and tracked them over 2 years. Two species had higher success in cooler topographic locations, and this success was enhanced by neighbouring plants, which appeared to modulate minimum growing season temperatures. One species' success was also facilitated by the higher soil organic matter found in cooler sites. These results are a novel experimental demonstration of two important factors that may buffer climate change impacts on plants: rugged topography and plant–plant facilitation.
    Ecology Letters 03/2014; · 17.95 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: 1.The physiological tolerance hypothesis proposes that plant species richness is highest in warm and/or wet climates because a wider range of functional strategies can persist under such conditions. Functional diversity metrics, combined with statistical modeling, offer new ways to test whether diversity-environment relationships are consistent with this hypothesis. 2.In a classic study by R. H. Whittaker (1960), herb species richness declined from mesic (cool, moist, northerly) slopes to xeric (hot, dry, southerly) slopes. Building on this dataset, we measured four plant functional traits (plant height, specific leaf area, leaf water content and foliar C:N) and used them to calculate three functional diversity metrics (functional richness, evenness, and dispersion). We then used a structural equation model to ask if ‘functional diversity’ (modeled as the joint responses of richness, evenness, and dispersion) could explain the observed relationship of topographic climate gradients to species richness. We then repeated our model examining the functional diversity of each of the four traits individually. 3.Consistent with the physiological tolerance hypothesis, we found that functional diversity was higher in more favorable climatic conditions (mesic slopes), and that multivariate functional diversity mediated the relationship of the topographic climate gradient to plant species richness. We found similar patterns for models focusing on individual trait functional diversity of leaf water content and foliar C:N. 4.Synthesis. Our results provide trait-based support for the physiological tolerance hypothesis, suggesting that benign climates support more species because they allow for a wider range of functional strategies. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
    Journal of Ecology 12/2013; · 5.43 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Spatially distinct communities can arise through interactions and feedbacks between abiotic and biotic factors. We suggest that, for plants, patches of infertile soils such as serpentine may support more distinct communities from those in the surrounding non-serpentine matrix in regions where the climate is more productive (i.e., warmer and/or wetter). Where both soil fertility and climatic productivity are high, communities may be dominated by plants with fast-growing functional traits, whereas where either soils or climate impose low productivity, species with stress-tolerant functional traits may predominate. As a result, both species and functional composition may show higher dissimilarity between patch and matrix in productive climates. This pattern may be reinforced by positive feedbacks, in which higher plant growth under favorable climate and soil conditions leads to higher soil fertility, further enhancing plant growth. For 96 pairs of sites across a 200-km latitudinal gradient in California, we found that the species and functional dissimilarities between communities on infertile serpentine and fertile non-serpentine soils were higher in more productive (wetter) regions. Woody species had more stress-tolerant functional traits on serpentine than non-serpentine soil, and as rainfall increased, woody species functional composition changed toward fast-growing traits on non-serpentine, but not on serpentine soils. Soil organic matter increased with rainfall, but only on non-serpentine soils, and the difference in organic matter between soils was positively correlated with plant community dissimilarity. These results illustrate a novel mechanism wherein climatic productivity is associated with higher species, functional, and landscape-level dissimilarity (beta diversity).
    Ecology 09/2013; 94(9):2007-18. · 5.18 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: AimA long-standing challenge in ecology is to identify the suite of factors that lead to turnover in species composition in both space and time. These factors might be stochastic (e.g. sampling and priority effects) or deterministic (e.g. competition and environmental filtering). While numerous studies have examined the relationship between turnover and individual drivers of interest (e.g. primary productivity, habitat heterogeneity, or regional – ‘gamma’ – diversity), few studies have disentangled the simultaneous influences of multiple stochastic and deterministic processes on both temporal and spatial turnover. If turnover is governed primarily by stochastic sampling processes, removing the sampling effects of gamma diversity should result in non-significant relationships between turnover and environmental variables. Conversely, if deterministic processes govern turnover patterns, removing sampling effects will have little influence on turnover gradients. Here, we test these predictions. LocationThe United States. Methods Continental-scale, multidecadal data were used to quantify spatial and temporal turnover in avian community composition within 295 survey routes. A series of regression and structural equation models were coupled with a null model to construct statistical models describing turnover patterns. ResultsExamining explanatory variables alone or in combination showed that spatial and temporal turnover increased together, decreased with primary productivity and increased with habitat heterogeneity. The relationships between turnover and all variables became weaker when sampling effects were removed, but relationships with primary productivity and habitat heterogeneity remained relatively strong. In addition, spatial turnover increased strongly with spatial gamma diversity after sampling effects were removed. Main conclusionsOur results show that spatial and temporal turnover are related to each other through a stochastic sampling process, but that each type of turnover is further influenced by deterministic processes. The relative influence of deterministic processes appears, however, to decrease with primary productivity and increase with habitat heterogeneity across an east–west longitudinal gradient in North America.
    Global Ecology and Biogeography. 01/2013; 22(2):202-212.
  • B. M. Fernandez-Going, S. Harrison
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    ABSTRACT: Plant community biomass and composition on low-productivity soils, such as serpentine, may be more resistant to climate change because they host stress-tolerant species that may respond slowly to change. These communities also host a number of endemic taxa that are of special interest because of their narrow distributions. In a 3-year study, we experimentally tested the response of serpentine and non-serpentine communities to water addition in spring. We also compared the responses of endemics and generalists to water addition, with and without biomass (competitor) removal. In the non-serpentine grassland, peak biomass was significantly greater in the water addition plots compared with control plots, but this effect depended on the year. In the serpentine grassland, there was no effect of water addition on biomass. Survival, biomass, growth rates, and seed production of soil endemics and generalists were all significantly reduced by competition, but were unaffected by water addition. Overall, endemics tended to perform better in serpentine soil and generalists in non-serpentine soil, suggesting that soil is an important factor for the establishment and survival of endemics and generalists. For endemics, the effect of biomass removal was stronger on non-serpentine soil, but for generalists this effect was similar on both soils, indicating that competition can be important in low-resource habitats. In conclusion, our results suggest that low-fertility plant communities may be slow to respond to changes in precipitation compared to communities on more fertile soil.
    Plant Ecology 01/2013; 214(5). · 1.53 Impact Factor
  • Howard V. Cornell, Susan P. Harrison
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    ABSTRACT: Community ecologists have struggled to create unified theories across diverse ecosystems, but it has been difficult to acertain whether marine and terrestrial communities differ in the mechanisms responsible for structure and dynamics. One apparent difference between marine and terrestrial ecology is that the influence of regional processes on local populations and communities is better established in the marine literature. We examine three potential explanations: 1) influential early studies emphasized local interactions in terrestrial communities and regional dispersal in marine communities. 2) regional-scale processes are actually more important in marine than in terrestrial communities. 3) recruitment from a regional species pool is easier to study in marine than terrestrial communities. We conclude that these are interrelated, but that the second and especially the third explanations are more important than the first. We also conclude that in both marine and terrestrial systems, there are ways to improve our understanding of regional influences on local community diversity. In particular, we advocate examining local vs regional diversity relationships at localities within environmentally similar regions that differ in their diversity either because of their sizes or their varying degrees of isolation from a species source.
    Oikos 01/2013; 122:288-297. · 3.33 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Plant communities on infertile soils may be relatively resistant to climatic variation if species in these communities have "stress-tolerant" functional traits that limit their ability to respond to climate. Alternatively, such communities may be more sensitive to climatic variation if their relatively sparse vegetative cover exposes species to more extreme changes in factors such as temperature or wind. We compared temporal variability in species richness and composition over 10 years between grasslands on infertile serpentine and "normal" sedimentary soils. Variability in species richness and species composition tracked mean annual precipitation on both soils, but variability was lower in serpentine grasslands. Communities on serpentine had lower functional diversity and had species with more "stress-tolerant" traits than non-serpentine communities (i.e., shorter stature, lower specific leaf area, and lower leaf area). Within and between soils, variability in species richness and temporal turnover were lower in communities scoring as more stress tolerant on a multivariate index of these traits; however, community variability was unrelated to functional diversity. Within 41 species found commonly on both soils, variability in occurrence and cover were also lower on serpentine soils, even though intraspecific trait differences between soils were minimal; this suggests a direct effect of soil type on species variability in addition to the indirect, trait-mediated effect. Communities with higher biomass had higher annual variability in species occurrence and cover. Our results suggest that infertile soils reduce compositional variability indirectly by selecting for stress-tolerant traits and directly by limiting productivity. We conclude that communities on infertile soils may respond more conservatively to predicted changes in precipitation, including increased variability, than communities on soils of normal fertility.
    Ecology 09/2012; 93(9):2104-14. · 5.18 Impact Factor
  • Brian L Anacker, Susan P Harrison
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    ABSTRACT: We addressed the classic question of whether community diversity is determined from the bottom up by the breadth and partitioning of niche space or from the top down by historical and evolutionary forces. Specifically, we contrasted local and regional explanations for the diversity of Californian plant communities using phylogenetic and functional analyses. Our communities were sets of four field plots that sampled alpha (within-plot) and beta (among-plot) sources of variation in diversity. We sampled 93 such communities nested within 78 larger regions for which regional species pools could be independently estimated, spanning the California Floristic Province. We measured phylogenetic and functional diversity within plots and between plots on neighboring soils and slopes. We also measured the phylogenetic diversity of regional species pools and analyzed them in terms of biogeographic groups. We found no evidence linking the phylogenetic diversity of communities to within-plot functional diversity or among-plot beta diversity. Instead, we found that the phylogenetic diversity of communities depends on that of regional species pools. In turn, phylogenetically diverse pools were those with high proportions of species of northern biogeographic affinity, which have relatively mesic distributions and traits. This supports what we call the climatic refuge hypothesis rather than the biogeographic crossroads hypothesis.
    The American Naturalist 08/2012; 180(2):257-69. · 4.55 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Qian et al. and Tuomisto and Ruokolainen critique our analyses of elevational and latitudinal variation in tree diversity. We address their points by reanalyzing different subsets of our data and by clarifying certain misconceptions, and reiterate that gradients in β diversity can be explained in the elevational and latitudinal tree data sets by variation in the size of species pools.
    Science 03/2012; 335(6076):1573. · 31.03 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: 1. Predicting and mitigating climate change effects on ecological communities is a tremendous challenge. Little attention has been given to how endemic-rich communities on isolated patches of low-nutrient soil (e.g. serpentine) will respond to climate change. 2. To address spatial factors (the isolated nature of outcrops), we incorporate habitat patchiness into species distribution models under climate change. The degree of overlap between current and future suitable habitat does not change when patchy habitats are incorporated, probably because serpentine occurs in mountainous regions where climatically and edaphically suitable regions geographically coincide. The dispersal distances required to move to newly suitable habitat are large, however, making successful migration unlikely. 3. To address how non-spatial factors affect the climate change responses of serpentine plant communities (e.g. the impacts of nutrient limitation and stress-tolerant functional traits), we conduct a literature review. Some studies suggest that serpentine communities may be at less risk than 'normal' soil communities due to their stress-tolerant functional traits, but there is also evidence to the contrary. 4. Synthesis. Assessing climate change risk for the world's diverse edaphic floras requires determining impacts on both special and 'normal' soil communities. Studies are needed that use functional traits, evaluate the role of evolutionary and ecological plasticity, examine responses across spatial and temporal scales and assess the efficacy of managed relocation efforts.
    Clinical and Experimental Allergy 01/2012; 100(5):1122-1130. · 5.43 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Aim  The global species richness patterns of birds and mammals are strongly congruent. This could reflect similar evolutionary responses to the Earth’s history, shared responses to current climatic conditions, or both. We compare the geographical and phylogenetic structures of both richness gradients to evaluate these possibilities.Location  Global.Methods  Gridded bird and mammal distribution databases were used to compare their species richness gradients with the current environment. Phylogenetic trees (resolved to family for birds and to species for mammals) were used to examine underlying phylogenetic structures. Our first prediction is that both groups have responded to the same climatic gradients. Our phylogenetic predictions include: (1) that both groups have similar geographical patterns of mean root distance, a measure of the level of the evolutionary development of faunas, and, more directly, (2) that richness patterns of basal and derived clades will differ, with richness peaking in the tropics for basal clades and in the extra-tropics for derived clades, and that this difference will hold for both birds and mammals. We also explore whether alternative taxonomic treatments for mammals can generate patterns matching those of birds.Results  Both richness gradients are associated with the same current environmental gradients. In contrast, neither of our evolutionary predictions is met: the gradients have different phylogenetic structures, and the richness of birds in the lowland tropics is dominated by many basal species from many basal groups, whereas mammal richness is attributable to many species from both few basal groups and many derived groups. Phylogenetic incongruence is robust to taxonomic delineations for mammals.Main conclusions  Contemporary climate can force multiple groups into similar diversity patterns even when evolutionary trajectories differ. Thus, as widely appreciated, our understanding of biodiversity must consider responses to both past and present climates, and our results are consistent with predictions that future climate change will cause major, correlated changes in patterns of diversity across multiple groups irrespective of their evolutionary histories.
    Journal of Biogeography 01/2012; 39(5):825-841. · 4.86 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Background: It is critical to understand the ecological factors shaping seed dispersal in plant communities in order to predict their fate in the face of global change. Communities restricted to patchy habitats may contain more species with ‘directed’ dispersal syndromes that facilitate successful seed dispersal to other patches. However, habitat quality may constrain the presence of and efficiency of dispersal syndromes found within those habitats.Aims: We hypothesised that if habitat patchiness is an important filter on dispersal syndromes, ‘directed’ vertebrate dispersal should be more prevalent in serpentine habitats because of their patchiness. Alternatively, if habitat quality is more important, wind dispersal should be more prevalent in serpentine habitats because of their low fertility.Methods: Using three datasets representing grassland, chaparral and forest vegetation types, we analysed differences in the composition of dispersal syndromes (vertebrate, wind, passive, water, and ant) between communities on patchy infertile serpentine soils and on continuous, fertile non-serpentine soils. Our analyses also accounted for correlated functional traits and phylogenetic relatedness.Results: Across and within all three vegetation types, serpentine communities had significantly higher proportions of wind dispersed and lower proportions of vertebrate-dispersed species. These patterns were not independent of functional traits. Proportions of the other dispersal syndromes did not differ.Conclusions: Our results suggest that on low-fertility soils, habitat quality may outweigh habitat patchiness as a filter on the availability of dispersal syndromes, potentially adding to the vulnerability of such communities to stochastic extinctions and global change.
    Plant Ecology & Diversity 01/2012; · 0.92 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Background: Seedling recruitment following fire is an infrequent yet critical demographic transition for woody plants in Mediterranean ecosystems.Aims: Here we examine whether post-fire seedling recruitment of three widespread Californian chaparral shrubs is affected by local adaptation within an edaphically and topographically complex landscape.Methods: We reciprocally transplanted 6-month-old seedlings of Adenostema fasciculatum, Ceanothus cuneatus and Eriodictyon californicum to serpentine and sandstone soils, and cool northerly and warm southerly slopes. At the age of two years, none of the species manifested higher survival or growth on ‘home’ compared to ‘away’ soils or slopes, indicating an absence of local adaptation with respect to seedling recruitment in these environments.Results: Seedlings of all species manifested lower survival and relative growth on serpentine soils regardless of seedling source, as well as a variety of other destination and source effects.Conclusions: The ability of these three species to recruit in new environments, such as in restoration settings or in response to shifting climates, is unlikely to be impeded by a need for seeds from sources that closely match their edaphic or topographic destination.
    Plant Ecology & Diversity 01/2012; · 0.92 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Understanding spatial variation in biodiversity along environmental gradients is a central theme in ecology. Differences in species compositional turnover among sites (β diversity) occurring along gradients are often used to infer variation in the processes structuring communities. Here, we show that sampling alone predicts changes in β diversity caused simply by changes in the sizes of species pools. For example, forest inventories sampled along latitudinal and elevational gradients show the well-documented pattern that β diversity is higher in the tropics and at low elevations. However, after correcting for variation in pooled species richness (γ diversity), these differences in β diversity disappear. Therefore, there is no need to invoke differences in the mechanisms of community assembly in temperate versus tropical systems to explain these global-scale patterns of β diversity.
    Science 09/2011; 333(6050):1755-8. · 31.20 Impact Factor
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    Kara A Moore, Susan P Harrison, Sarah C Elmendorf
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    ABSTRACT: When the distribution of species is limited by propagule supply, new populations may be initiated by seed addition, but identifying suitable sites for efficiently targeted seed addition remains a major challenge for restoration. In addition to the biotic or abiotic variables typically used in species distribution models, spatial isolation from conspecifics could help predict the suitability of unoccupied sites. Site suitability might be expected to increase with spatial isolation after other factors are accounted for, since isolation increases the chance that a site is unoccupied only because of propagule limitation. For two native annual forbs in Californian grasslands, we combined experimental seeding and niche modeling to ask whether suitability of unoccupied sites could be predicted by spatial variables (either distances from, or densities of, conspecific populations), either by themselves or in combination with niche models. We also asked whether experimental tests of these predictions held up not only in the short term (one year), but also in the longer term (three years). For Lasthenia californica, seed additions were only successful relatively near existing populations. For Lupinus nanus, seeding success was low and was positively related to the number of conspecifics within 1 km. For both species, a few previously unoccupied sites remained occupied three years after seeding, but this subset was not predictable based on either spatial or niche variables. Seed addition alone may be a limited means of native forb restoration if suitable unoccupied sites are either rare or unpredictable, or if they tend to be close to where the species already occurs.
    Ecological Applications 09/2011; 21(6):2119-28. · 3.82 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Background: High values of specific leaf area (SLA) are generally associated with high maximal growth rates in resource-rich conditions, such as mesic climates and fertile soils. However, fire may complicate this relationship since its frequency varies with both climate and soil fertility, and fire frequency selects for regeneration strategies (resprouting versus seeding) that are not independent of resource-acquisition strategies. Shared ancestry is also expected to affect the distribution of resource-use and regeneration traits.Aims: We examined climate, soil, and fire as drivers of community-level variation in a key functional trait, SLA, in chaparral in California.Methods: We quantified the phylogenetic, functional, and environmental non-independence of key traits for 87 species in 115 plots.Results: Among species, SLA was higher in resprouters than seeders, although not after phylogeny correction. Among communities, mean SLA was lower in harsh interior climates, but in these climates it was higher on more fertile soils and on more recently burned sites; in mesic coastal climates, mean SLA was uniformly high despite variation in soil fertility and fire history.Conclusions: We conclude that because important correlations exist among both species traits and environmental filters, interpreting the functional and phylogenetic structure of communities may require an understanding of complex interactive effects.
    Plant Ecology & Diversity 06/2011; 4(2-3):179-188. · 0.92 Impact Factor
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    Sarah C Elmendorf, Susan P Harrison
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    ABSTRACT: There is considerable debate among ecologists as to whether or not communities are saturated. In saturated communities, species richness should remain relatively constant over time, despite compositional turnover, because richness is negatively correlated with colonization and positively correlated with local extinction. Few studies have tested for saturation using temporal observational data as well as diversity-perturbation experiments. We analyzed 10 years of data for plant species richness at 71 sites on contrasting serpentine and non-serpentine soils within Californian (USA) grasslands. We also manipulated local richness and measured its effects on immigration and extinction. Consistent with saturation, we observed that richness was positively correlated with extinction rates and negatively correlated with colonization rates, and randomization tests confirmed that diversity fluctuated less than expected by chance. However, experimental species additions and removals did not affect extinction or colonization, suggesting that richness is not regulated by local species interactions. Instead, we propose three reasons why richness may fluctuate within narrow limits causing the appearance of saturation in temporal observational data sets: negatively autocorrelated patterns of biotic response to yearly conditions, differential affinities of particular species for local conditions, or stochastic abundance-dependent colonization and extinction rates. We illustrate the latter using a metacommunity model.
    Ecology 03/2011; 92(3):602-9. · 5.18 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Habitat specialization plays an important role in the creation and loss of biodiversity over ecological and evolutionary time scales. In California, serpentine soils have a distinctive flora, with 246 serpentine habitat specialists (i.e., endemics). Using molecular phylogenies for 23 genera containing 784 taxa and 51 endemics, we infer few transitions out of the endemic state, which is shown by an analysis of transition rates to simply reflect the low frequency of endemics (i.e., reversal rates were high). The finding of high reversal rates, but a low number of reversals, is consistent with the widely hypothesized trade-off between serpentine tolerance and competitive ability, under which serpentine endemics are physiologically capable of growing in less-stressful habitats but competitors lead to their extirpation. Endemism is also characterized by a decrease in speciation and extinction rates and a decrease in the overall diversification rate. We also find that tolerators (species with nonserpentine and serpentine populations) undergo speciation in serpentine habitats to give rise to new serpentine endemics but are several times more likely to lose serpentine populations to produce serpentine-intolerant taxa. Finally, endemics were younger on average than nonendemics, but this alone does not explain their low diversification.
    Evolution 02/2011; 65(2):365-76. · 4.86 Impact Factor
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    James B Grace, Susan Harrison, Ellen I Damschen
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    ABSTRACT: In his classic study in the Siskiyou Mountains (Oregon, USA), one of the most botanically rich forested regions in North America, R. H. Whittaker (1960) foreshadowed many modern ideas on the multivariate control of local species richness along environmental gradients related to productivity. Using a structural equation model to analyze his data, which were never previously statistically analyzed, we demonstrate that Whittaker was remarkably accurate in concluding that local herb richness in these late-seral forests is explained to a large extent by three major abiotic gradients (soils, topography, and elevation), and in turn, by the effects of these gradients on tree densities and the numbers of individual herbs. However, while Whittaker also clearly appreciated the significance of large-scale evolutionary and biogeographic influences on community composition, he did not fully articulate the more recent concept that variation in the species richness of local communities could be explained in part by variation in the sizes of regional species pools. Our model of his data is among the first to use estimates of regional species pool size to explain variation in local community richness along productivity-related gradients. We find that regional pool size, combined with a modest number of other interacting abiotic and biotic factors, explains most of the variation in local herb richness in the Siskiyou biodiversity hotspot.
    Ecology 01/2011; 92(1):108-20. · 5.18 Impact Factor
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    Ellen I Damschen, Susan Harrison, James B Grace
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    ABSTRACT: Species with relatively narrow niches, such as plants restricted (endemic) to particular soils, may be especially vulnerable to extinction under a changing climate due to the enhanced difficulty they face in migrating to suitable new sites. To test for community-level effects of climate change, and to compare such effects in a highly endemic-rich flora on unproductive serpentine soils vs. the flora of normal (diorite) soils, in 2007 we resampled as closely as possible 108 sites originally studied by ecologist Robert H. Whittaker from 1949 to 1951 in the Siskiyou Mountains of southern Oregon, USA. We found sharp declines in herb cover and richness on both serpentine and diorite soils. Declines were strongest in species of northern biogeographic affinity, species endemic to the region (in serpentine communities only), and species endemic to serpentine soils. Consistent with climatic warming, herb communities have shifted from 1949-1951 to 2007 to more closely resemble communities found on xeric (warm, dry) south-facing slopes. The changes found in the Siskiyou herb flora suggest that biotas rich in narrowly distributed endemics may be particularly susceptible to the effects of a warming climate.
    Ecology 12/2010; 91(12):3609-19. · 5.18 Impact Factor

Publication Stats

2k Citations
412.86 Total Impact Points

Institutions

  • 2–2014
    • University of California, Davis
      • Department of Environmental Science and Policy
      Davis, California, United States
  • 2011
    • USGS National Wetlands Research Center
      Lafayette, Louisiana, United States
    • University of British Columbia - Vancouver
      • Department of Geography
      Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  • 2010
    • Washington University in St. Louis
      • Department of Biology
      Saint Louis, MO, United States
  • 2007
    • Claude Bernard University Lyon 1
      Villeurbanne, Rhône-Alpes, France
  • 2000
    • CSU Mentor
      Long Beach, California, United States