Ecology

Narrow Niches and Nowhere to Go

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Science  10 Dec 2010:
Vol. 330, Issue 6010, pp. 1456
DOI: 10.1126/science.330.6010.1456-c
CREDIT: ELLEN DAMSCHEN

Studies of the changing distributions of plant species under contemporary climate change tend to not take into account the often quite specialized requirements of plants for soil composition, pollinators, and regeneration conditions. A good example is plant species found on serpentine soils, which are generally restricted geographically. Damschen et al. revisited the rich but narrowly restricted floras on serpentine in the Siskiyou Mountains in the northwest United States, first studied 60 years ago by the ecologist Robert Whittaker. They found striking changes in the species composition of herbaceous communities, with the strongest declines in the more-specialist serpentine species, which have no suitable neighboring habitat to migrate to. The plant communities are becoming more characteristic of drier, warmer habitats, and with fewer, more widely tolerant species. Besides showing how climate change may pose special risks to the floras of hot spots of endemic species, this work illustrates the increasing power of long-term ecological records in illuminating the effects of climate change on biota.

CREDIT: ELLEN DAMSCHEN

Ecology 91, 3609 (2010).

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