Transplantation of subalpine wood-pasture turfs along a natural climatic gradient reveals lower resistance of unwooded pastures to climate change compared to wooded ones

Climate change could impact strongly on cold-adapted mountain ecosystems, but little is known about its interaction with traditional land-use practices. We used an altitudinal gradient to simulate a year-round warmer and drier climate for semi-natural subalpine grasslands across a landscape of contrasting land-use management. Turf mesocosms from three pasture-woodland land-use types-unwooded pasture, sparsely wooded pasture, and densely wooded pasture-spanning a gradient from high to low management intensity were transplanted downslope to test their resistance to two intensities of climate change. We found strong overall effects of intensive (+4 K) experimental climate change (i.e., warming and reduced precipitation) on plant community structure and function, while moderate (+2 K) climate change did not substantially affect the studied land-use types, thus indicating an ecosystem response threshold to moderate climate perturbation. The individual land-use types were affected differently under the +4 K scenario, with a 60 % decrease in aboveground biomass (AGB) in unwooded pasture turfs, a 40 % decrease in sparsely wooded pasture turfs, and none in densely wooded ones. Similarly, unwooded pasture turfs experienced a 30 % loss of species, advanced (by 30 days) phenological development, and a mid-season senescence due to drought stress, while no such effects were recorded for the other land-use types. The observed contrasting effects of climate change across the pasture-woodland landscape have important implications for future decades. The reduced impact of climate change on wooded pastures as compared to unwooded ones should promote the sustainable land use of wooded pastures by maintaining low management intensity and a sparse forest canopy, which buffer the immediate impacts of climate change on herbaceous vegetation.

Published in:
Oecologia, 174, 4, 1425-1435
New York, Springer

 Record created 2014-05-02, last modified 2018-01-28

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