Connecting differential responses of native and invasive riparian plants to climate change and environmental alteration.
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Climate change is predicted to impact river systems in the southeastern United States through alterations of temperature, patterns of precipitation and hydrology. Future climate scenarios for the southeastern United States predict (1) surface water temperatures will warm in concert with air temperature, (2) storm flows will increase and base flows will decrease, and (3) the annual pattern of synchronization between hydroperiod and water temperature will be altered. These alterations are expected to disturb floodplain plant communities, making them more vulnerable to establishment of invasive species. The primary objective of this study is to evaluate whether native and invasive riparian plant assemblages respond differently to alterations of climate and land use. To study the response of riparian wetlands to watershed and climate alterations, we utilized an existing natural experiment imbedded in gradients of temperature and hydrology-found among dammed and undammed rivers. We evaluated a suite of environmental variables related to water temperature, hydrology, watershed disturbance, and edaphic conditions to identify the strongest predictors of native and invasive species abundances. We found that native species abundance is strongly influenced by climate-driven variables such as temperature and hydrology, while invasive species abundance is more strongly influenced by site-specific factors such as land use and soil nutrient availability. The patterns of synchronization between plant phenology, annual hydrographs, and annual water temperature cycles may be key factors sustaining the viability of native riparian plant communities. Our results demonstrate the need to understand the interactions between climate, land use, and nutrient management in maintaining the species diversity of riparian plant communities. Future climate change is likely to result in diminished competitiveness of native plant species, while the competitiveness of invasive species will increase due to anthropogenic watershed disturbance and accelerated nutrient and sediment export.
Curtis J. Richardson is Professor of Resource Ecology and founding Director of the Duke University Wetland Center in the Nicholas School of the Environment. Dr. Richardson earned his degrees from the State University of New York and the University of Tennessee.His research interests in applied ecology focus on long-term ecosystem response to large-scale perturbations such as climate change, toxic materials, trace metals, flooding, or nutrient additions. He has specific interests in phosphorus nutrient dynamics in wetlands and the effects of environmental stress on plant communities and ecosystem functions and services. The objectives of his research are to utilize ecological principles to develop new approaches to environmental problem solving. The goal of his research is to provide predictive models and approaches to aid in the management of ecosystems. Recent research activities: 1) wetland restoration of plant communities and its effects on regional water quality and nutrient biogeochemical cycles, 2) the development of ecosystem metrics as indices of wetland restoration success, 3) the effects of nanomaterial on wetland and stream ecosystem processes, 4) the development of ecological thresholds along environmental gradients, 5) wetland development trends and restoration in coastal southeastern United States, 6) the development of an outdoor wetland and stream research and teaching laboratory on Duke Forest, 7) differential nutrient limitation (DNL) as a mechanism to overcome N or P limitations across trophic levels in wetland ecosystems, and 8) carbon sequestration in coastal North Carolina pocosins.Richardson oversees the main analytical lab in NSOE, which is open to students and faculty. Dr. Richardson has been listed in Who's Who in Science™ annually since 1989 and was elected President of the Society of Wetland Scientists in 1987-88. He has served on many editorial review committees for peer-reviewed scientific journals, and he is a past Chair of the Nicholas School Division of Environmental Sciences and Policy. Dr. Richardson is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Society of Wetland Scientists, and the Soil Science Society of America.
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