Change in arctic and alpine plant communities: the roles of climate and geodiversity

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Sch of Geography


One of the most important areas of current ecological research is understanding how ecosystems (and associated ecosystem services) respond to changing environments, and thus predicting likely changes in ecological communities in the future. However, almost all this large research effort remains highly speculative because of (1) lack of appropriate empirical data and (2) failure to account for important influences on ecological change.

Problem (1) results from the fact that recent climate change has typically been much smaller (<1 degrees C) than the change expected by 2100 (~5 degrees C). Therefore empirical validation of predictions is lacking (Vellend et al., 2017, Ecology).

Regarding problem (2), it is increasingly appreciated that geodiversity (the variety of abiotic nature) affects biodiversity (Bailey et al., 2017, Global Ecology and Biogeography). Indeed, the well-established concept of Conserving Nature's Stage (CNS) centres on the notion that conserving abiotic diversity is crucial for conserving biodiversity. However, so far, geodiversity has not been incorporated into research on ecological responses to climate change and the CNS concept has not been tested empirically (Lawler et al., 2015, Conservation Biology).

This project aims to overcome these two problems by quantifying arctic and alpine geodiversity in areas which have already experienced warming of ~5 degrees C over the last few decades (Schuur et al., 2015, Nature), combining these data with an established database of plant community change spanning several decades. This will allow the first empirical tests of two hypotheses from CNS:
(i) plant communities change less in response to climate change where geodiversity is higher;
(ii) this pattern is observed universally across plant functional types (eg. Shrubs, grasses)

Improved understanding of the role abiotic processes and features play in mediating ecosystem responses to past climate change will significantly improve our ability to predict responses to future environmental change, and associated risks - thus improving adaptation and mitigation strategies.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
NE/S007423/1 01/10/2019 30/09/2027
2109883 Studentship NE/S007423/1 01/10/2018 30/11/2022 Oliver Baines