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Research article2018Peer reviewedOpen access

Structural and functional responses of plant communities to climate change-mediated alterations in the hydrology of riparian areas in temperate Europe

Baattrup-Pedersen, Annette; Garssen, Annemarie; Gothe, Emma; Hoffmann, Carl Christian; Oddershede, Andrea; Riis, Tenna; van Bodegom, Peter M.; Larsen, Soren E.; Soons, Merel


The hydrology of riparian areas changes rapidly these years because of climate change-mediated alterations in precipitation patterns. In this study, we used a large-scale in situ experimental approach to explore effects of drought and flooding on plant taxonomic diversity and functional trait composition in riparian areas in temperate Europe. We found significant effects of flooding and drought in all study areas, the effects being most pronounced under flooded conditions. In near-stream areas, taxonomic diversity initially declined in response to both drought and flooding (although not significantly so in all years) and remained stable under drought conditions, whereas the decline continued under flooded conditions. For most traits, we found clear indications that the functional diversity also declined under flooded conditions, particularly in near-stream areas, indicating that fewer strategies succeeded under flooded conditions. Consistent changes in community mean trait values were also identified, but fewer than expected. This can have several, not mutually exclusive, explanations. First, different adaptive strategies may coexist in a community. Second, intraspecific variability was not considered for any of the traits. For example, many species can elongate shoots and petioles that enable them to survive shallow, prolonged flooding but such abilities will not be captured when applying mean trait values. Third, we only followed the communities for 3years. Flooding excludes species intolerant of the altered hydrology, whereas the establishment of new species relies on time-dependent processes, for instance the dispersal and establishment of species within the areas. We expect that altered precipitation patterns will have profound consequences for riparian vegetation in temperate Europe. Riparian areas will experience loss of taxonomic and functional diversity and, over time, possibly also alterations in community trait responses that may have cascading effects on ecosystem functioning.


climate change; drought; flooding; lowland; plant; trait; vegetation

Published in

Ecology and Evolution
2018, Volume: 8, number: 8, pages: 4120-4135
Publisher: WILEY

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