Do successive climate extremes weaken the resistance of plant communities? An experimental study using plant assemblages
- Research Group of Plant and Vegetation Ecology, Department of Biology, University of Antwerp, Wilrijk, Belgium
Abstract. The probability that plant communities undergo successive climate extremes increases under climate change. Exposure to an extreme event might elicit acclimatory responses and thereby greater resistance to a subsequent event, but might also reduce resistance if the recovery period is too short or resilience too low. Using experimental herbaceous plant assemblages, we compared the effects of two successive extremes occurring in one growing season (either two drought extremes, two heat extremes or two drought + heat extremes) to those of assemblages being exposed only to the second extreme. Additionally, the recovery period between the successive extremes was varied (2, 3.5 or 6 weeks).
Among the different types of climate extremes, combined heat + drought extremes induced substantial leaf mortality and plant senescence, while the effects of drought and heat extremes were smaller. Preceding drought + heat extremes lowered the resistance in terms of leaf survival to a subsequent drought + heat extreme if the recovery period was two weeks, even though the leaves had completely recovered during that interval. No reduced resistance to subsequent extremes was recorded with longer recovery times or with drought or heat extremes. Despite the substantial mortality on the short term, the drought + heat and the heat extremes increased the end-of-season aboveground biomass independent of the number of extreme events or the duration of the recovery period. These results show that recurrent climate extremes with short time intervals can weaken the resistance of herbaceous plant assemblages. This negative effect in the short term can, however, be compensated in the longer term through rapid recovery and secondary positive effects.