Longer growing seasons shift grassland vegetation towards more-productive species

Jason D. Fridley, Josh S. Lynn, J. P. Grime, A. P. Askew

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


Despite advances in plant functional ecology that provide a framework for predicting the responses of vegetation to environmental change, links between plant functional strategies and elevated temperatures are poorly understood. Here, we analyse the response of a species-rich grassland in northern England to two decades of temperature and rainfall manipulations in the context of the functional attributes of 21 coexisting species that represent a large array of resource-use strategies. Three principal traits, including body size (canopy height), tissue investment (leaf construction cost), and seed size, varied independently across species and reflect tradeoffs associated with competitiveness, stress tolerance, and colonization ability. Unlike past studies, our results reveal a strong association between functional traits and temperature regime; species favoured by extended growing seasons have taller canopies and faster assimilation rates, which has come at the expense of those species of high tissue investment. This trait-warming association was three times higher in deep soils, suggesting species shifts have been strongly mediated by competition. In contrast, vegetation shifts from rainfall manipulations have been associated only with tissue investment. Functional shifts towards faster growing species in response to warming may be responsible for a marginal increase in productivity in a system that was assumed to be nutrient-limited.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)865-868
Number of pages4
JournalNature Climate Change
Issue number9
StatePublished - Aug 25 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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