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Global changes alter the timing of plant growth, scientists say

Any gardener knows--different plant species mature at different times. Scientists studying plant communities in natural habitats call this phenomenon "complementarity." It allows many species to co-exist because it reduces overlap in the time period when species compete for limited resources. Now, in a study posted online the week of Sept. 4 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, ecologists working at Stanford's Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve report evidence that climate change may alter this delicate balance.

"In the natural world, species have evolved to be finely attuned to the seasons--timing is everything," said lead author Elsa Cleland, who performed this research as part of her doctoral dissertation at Stanford and is now a postdoctoral fellow at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in Santa Barbara, Calif. "If climate change alters the timing of plant activity, then it could have a domino effect, impacting the feeding, breeding or migration patterns of the animals that rely on particular plant species."

Cleland's co-authors include Nona R. Chiariello, research coordinator of the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve; Scott Loarie, who assisted with this research while a Stanford undergraduate; Christopher B. Field, director of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology (located on the Stanford campus) and faculty director of Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, and Harold A. Mooney, the Paul S. Achilles Professor of Environmental Biology at Stanford.

The findings are part of the ongoing Jasper Ridge Global Change Experiment, launched in 1998 and designed to demonstrate how a typical California grassland ecosystem may respond to future global environmental changes. Researchers from Stanford and the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology conducted the experiment in about two fenced-off acres of the 1,189-acre Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve. The experiment was designed to simu
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Source:Stanford University


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