Warming, Soil Moisture, and Loss of Snow Increase Bromus tectorum’s Population Growth Rate
Elementa: Science of he Anthropocene
Climate change threatens to exacerbate the impacts of invasive species. In temperate ecosystems, direct effects of warming may be compounded by dramatic reductions in winter snow cover. Cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) is arguably the most destructive biological invader in basins of the North American Intermountain West, and warming could increase its performance through direct effects on demographic rates or through indirect effects mediated by loss of snow. We conducted a two-year experimental manipulation of temperature and snow pack to test whether 1) warming increases cheatgrass population growth rate and 2) reduced snow cover contributes to cheatgrass’ positive response to warming. We used infrared heaters operating continuously to create the warming treatment, but turned heaters on only during snowfalls for the snowmelt treatment. We monitored cheatgrass population growth rate and the vital rates that determine it: emergence, survival and fecundity. Growth rate increased in both warming and snowmelt treatments. The largest increases occurred in warming plots during the wettest year, indicating that the magnitude of response to warming depends on moisture availability. Warming increased both fecundity and survival, especially in the wet year, while snowmelt contributed to the positive effects of warming by increasing survival. Our results indicate that increasing temperature will exacerbate cheatgrass impacts, especially where warming causes large reductions in the depth and duration of snow cover.
Compagnoni A. Warming, soil moisture, and loss of snow increase Bromus tectorum’s population growth rate. Elem Sci Anth. 2014;2:20. DOI: http://doi.org/10.12952/journal.elementa.000020