Climate Change Impacts: Vegetation


Climate, more than any other factor, controls the broad‐scale distributions of plant species and vegetation. Rapid climate change over the next century is likely to lead to major changes in the distribution of plants and thus in biomes and habitats. This will affect many other nonplant species as their ecology is intimately linked not only to climate but also to the habitat availability. How plants have already responded to climate change, concentrating on their phenology, the timing of events in their annual cycle such as leaf out or flowering and shifts in species ranges are summarized. How plants have responded in the past to changing climates particularly since the end of the last ice age is also discussed. Simulation modelling is a tool that is being used to forecast vegetation change and some of the techniques and forecasts for the future from modelling experiments are also described.

Keywords: climate change; phenology; range shifts; productivity; past changes

Figure 1.

Geographical distribution of the late glacial and postglacial records of beech in Europe. O, Fagus pollen <2% or absent; •, Fagus pollen >2%; Δ, Fagus macrofossil. The grey area corresponds to the modern beech distribution (light grey, Fagus sylvatica; dark grey, Fagus orientalis) (Magri et al., ). Reproduced with permission from New Phytologist.

Figure 2.

Regional projections of the residuals from the multiple regression of species loss against growing degree days and moisture availability. Red colours indicate an excess of species loss; grey colours indicate a deficit (Thuiller et al., ). Reproduced with permission of (2005) National Academy of Sciences, U.S.A.

Figure 3.

Modelled current (left; averaged for 1961–1990) and future (right; 2071–2100) potential natural vegetation (PNV) in Europe under the BAMBU (IPCC A2) emission scenario, with two climate models (HadCM3, PCM). Top right‐hand side: HADCM3 climate model; lower right‐hand side: PCM climate model. Reproduced with permission of Hickler T, Vohland K, Costa L et al. Vegetation on the move – where do conservation strategies have to be re‐defined. In: Settele J, Penev L, Georgiev T, Grabaum R, Grobelnik V, Hammen V, Klotz S, and Kühn I (eds) Atlas of Biodiversity Risks – from Europe to the globe, from stories to maps. Sofia & Moscow: Pensoft. In press.



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Further Reading

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Settele J, Penev L, Georgiev T et al. (eds) (2009) Atlas of Biodiversity Risks – from Europe to the globe, from stories to maps. Sofia & Moscow: Pensoft. In press.

Thuiller W (2003) BIOMOD – optimizing predictions of species distributions and projecting potential future shifts under global change. Global Change Biology 9: 1353–1362.

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How to Cite close
Sykes, Martin T(Sep 2009) Climate Change Impacts: Vegetation. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0021227]