Recruitment dynamics of tree species

Project Overview
The higher temperatures and carbon dioxide concentrations associated with climate change will alter growing conditions for plants. Although a variety of species and community responses have been predicted, one of the most widely expected results is a shift in species ranges as plants expand their ranges poleward to track changing temperatures. The future composition of temperate forests and the ecosystem services they provide will depend on whether migrant tree species can successfully establish before climate change disrupts populations of existing tree species. Most predictions of tree range shifts are based on correlations between environmental conditions and the current range of a species (i.e. climate envelopes; Iverson and Prasad 1998). However, climate envelope projections do not incorporate the biotic factors individuals will experience when they invade already established communities (e.g. interactions with herbivores, pathogens, symbiotic organisms, mutualists and local plants). These interactions with existing communities will play a large role in determining the migratory potential of each species. This knowledge gap highlights the need for experimental work to complement climate envelope approaches. Tree recruitment in established communities is very sensitive to natural enemies (e.g. Hewitt and Kellman 2004); support for the Janzen-Connell hypothesis (Janzen 1970) has shown that conspecific seedling recruitment can be strongly reduced by the accumulation of specialist herbivores and pathogens around host trees (e.g. Packer and Clay 2000). However, I hypothesize that specialist herbivores and pathogens are unlikely to be common in areas beyond the current range of a plant species, potentially releasing pioneer populations of migratory plants from herbivory and pathogens. This could result in a competitive advantage for migrant plants, as decreased herbivory increases growth rates and fecundity while lowering the age of first reproduction (Engelkes et al. 2008, Funk and Throop 2010). This would also increase the rate at which plants can spread. However, it is also possible that migrant plants will be more susceptible to generalist herbivores because of the additional stress of adapting to a new environment; this might prevent their establishment in the new region. In order to elucidate the mechanisms influencing tree species distributional shifts, I will carry out experimental work to quantify the interactions between migrant plants and existing communities. Specifically, I will address the following questions: Do migrant seedlings experience less herbivory and disease in their new ranges than native seedlings? Are migrant species exposed to less herbivory and disease than in their native range? How important is this to plant growth and survival? In order to answer these questions I will plant tree seedlings within and beyond their current distributional ranges and monitor these plants for foliar damage, pathogen activity, growth, and survival.
Project Details
Research sites: 
Investigator Info
Funding agency: 
National Science Foundation
Years active: 
2011 to 2015