Modeling rates of life form cover change in burned and unburned alpine heathland subject to experimental warming

James S. Camac*, Richard J. Williams, Carl Henrik Wahren, Frith Jarrad, Ary A. Hoffmann, Peter A. Vesk

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

12 Citations (Scopus)


Elevated global temperatures are expected to alter vegetation dynamics by interacting with physiological processes, biotic relationships and disturbance regimes. However, few studies have explicitly modeled the effects of these interactions on rates of vegetation change, despite such information being critical to forecasting temporal patterns in vegetation dynamics. In this study, we build and parameterize rate-change models for three dominant alpine life forms using data from a 7-year warming experiment. These models allowed us to examine how the interactions between experimental warming, the abundance of bare ground (a measure of past disturbance) and neighboring life forms (a measure of life form interaction) affect rates of cover change in alpine shrubs, graminoids and forbs. We show that experimental warming altered rates of life form cover change by reducing the negative effects of neighboring life forms and positive effects of bare ground. Furthermore, we show that our models can predict the observed direction and rate of life form cover change at burned and unburned long-term monitoring sites. Model simulations revealed that warming in unburned vegetation is expected to result in increased forb and shrub cover and decreased graminoid cover. In contrast, in burned vegetation, warming is predicted to slow post-fire regeneration in both graminoids and forbs and facilitate rapid expansion in shrub cover. These findings illustrate the applicability of modeling rates of vegetation change using experimental data. Our results also highlight the need to account for both disturbance and the abundance of other life forms when examining and forecasting vegetation dynamics under climatic change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)615-628
Number of pages14
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jun 2015

Bibliographical note

Erratum can be found at Oecologia volume 178(2), p629-230,


  • Bayesian
  • fire
  • open-top chamber
  • plant-climate interactions
  • vegetation dynamics

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