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Effects of Nutrient Changes on Plant Communities

Linnaea borealis
Chamerion angustifolium
Kluane Research Plot

Katherine continues with another entry she's organized for UBC's Celebrate Research Week series. She introduces Dr. Roy Turkington:

Dr. Roy Turkington is a professor of plant ecology at UBC based under the Department of Botany and the Biodiversity Research Centre. The Turkington lab is currently undergoing research in collaboration with Dr. Lauchlan Fraser from Thompson Rivers University, BC and Professor Zhou Zhe-khun at the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden and the Kunming Institute of Botany, Yunnan Province in China. Dr. Roy Turkington has been kind enough to share with us two entries regarding his research, first from the Kluane region in the Yukon, Canada, and in an upcoming entry, the Ailaoshan sites in Yunnan, China.

Today's entry, from Dr. Turkington, has photographs from the Yukon Kluane region, more of which are available on the Turkington lab website. The images are of Linnaea borealis (twinflower), Chamerion angustifolium (fireweed) and a study plot. Dr. Turkington writes:

It has been suggested that the application of nutrients to northern communities may simulate some of the same effects in the plant community that might be produced by global environmental change. Global changes such as increasing CO2 concentrations, increasing deposition of nitrogen and sulphur pollutants, and rising temperatures will have crucial impacts on nutrient cycles consequently leading to changes in primary production and species composition. Climate change will increase the supply of nutrients, by stimulating decomposition processes, and increase the rate of soil carbon accumulation. These changes will of course be modified by the interactions between plants and their environment. In the Kluane region we might initially expect that bryophytes, lichens, prostrate growth forms (e.g., Arctostaphylos uva-ursi/ and Linnaea borealis), and low nutrient-requiring species will be suppressed or eliminated by faster-growing, more upright clonal species such as the forbs, Chamerion angustifolium (syn. Epilobium angustifolium) and Mertensia paniculata.

As species composition changes in our plots we inevitably lose a number of species and raises the question if species-impoverished systems will perform less well or less efficiently than their counterpart systems with a full complement of species. To investigate these questions we used a removal experiment called "a functional group knock-out". This was achieved by removing plant functional groups (graminoids, leguminous forbs and non-leguminous forbs) individually and observing changes in community dynamics and ecosystem function. Response variables measured include both community dynamics (species frequency measures and leaf area index) and ecosystem function (above-ground biomass, above and below-ground decomposition rates [using litter bags], nutrient supply rates [using ion exchange membranes], light interception and soil water content). And yes, loss of species does lead to a loss of ecosystem function.


This reminded me of the Bay checkerspot Butterfly at Edgewood County Park in San Mateo County, California.

Edgewood County Park lies next to an 8 lane superhighway. Over 100,000 vehicles pass by each day. Nitrogen emissions from the vehicles are washed by the winter rains into the serpentine soils, allowing non-native annual grasses from Europe to thrive. The non-native grasses crowd out the host plants for the butterfly.

More info:


thank you just that thank you for all the work and care for our world

So would the community without leguminous forbs represent the high available nutrient landscape?

This would be good to keep up on. Hope we never lose these two lovelies. Thank You!

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