Evidence for long-term shift in plant community composition under decadal experimental warming

Zheng Shi, Rebecca Sherry, Xia Xu, Oleksandra Hararuk, Lara Souza, Lifen Jiang, Jianyang Xia, Junyi Liang, Yiqi Luo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


Long-term, slow ecological processes such as changes in plant community structure and composition strongly regulate ecosystem responses to climate change. Shifts in plant community are expected in chronically altered environments under warming. However, experimental evidence for long-term shifts and the associated mechanisms is still scarce in temperate grasslands. Here, we explore the long-term responses of a prairie plant community to 14-year (2000-2013) manipulations of climate warming and clipping in Oklahoma, USA. Infrared heaters were used to elevate soil temperature by about 2 °C all year round, and annual clipping was applied to mimic hay harvest. Community composition was resistant to experimental warming in the first seven years, but started to show responses starting from the eighth year; clipping consistently affected community composition over the years. Compositional change under long-term warming was mainly due to one invasive species and three dominant species. The negative correlations in relative abundance between the invasive species and the dominant species suggest interspecific competition. Community structure (i.e. richness, evenness and diversity) had no overall response to experimental warming. However, in 2007, the extreme wet year, warming reduced species richness by 30%. Clipping promoted species richness by 10% on average over the 14 years but decreased community evenness. Warming did not interact with clipping in influencing the plant community variables. Synthesis. Our study provides experimental evidence for long-term shifts in plant community composition due to warming and revealed novel mechanisms (i.e. species invasion and associated biotic interactions) underlying the long-term shift. The results also suggest that climate extremes may elicit or advance community responses to climate warming. The findings highlight that long-term climate change experiments are essential to reveal potential shifts in community composition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1131-1140
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Ecology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Diversity
  • Extreme climate
  • Increased temperature
  • Plant-climate interactions
  • Prairie plant community
  • Species invasion
  • Tallgrass prairie
  • Temperate grassland

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Plant Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Evidence for long-term shift in plant community composition under decadal experimental warming'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this