Endemic plant communities on special soils: early victims or hardy survivors of climate change?

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Damschen, Ellen I., Harrison, Susan, Ackerly, David D., Fernandez-Going, Barbara M., Anacker, Brian L.
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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.


Damschen, E. I., S. Harrison, D. D. Ackerly, B. M. Fernandez-Going, and B. L. Anacker. 2012. Endemic plant communities on special soils: early victims or hardy survivors of climate change? Journal of Ecology 100:1122–1130.