Research ArticlePLANT ECOLOGY

The pace of plant community change is accelerating in remnant prairies

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Science Advances  19 Feb 2016:
Vol. 2, no. 2, e1500975
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1500975


Patterns of biodiversity are changing rapidly. “Legacy studies” use historical data to document changes between past and present communities, revealing long-term trends that can often be linked to particular drivers of ecological change. However, a single pair of historical samples cannot ascertain whether rates of change are consistent or whether the impact and identity of drivers have shifted. Using data from a second resurvey of 47 Wisconsin prairie remnants, we show that the pace of community change has increased with shifts in the strength of particular drivers. Annual rates of local colonization and extinction accelerated by 129 and 214%, respectively, between 1950 and 1987 and between 1987 and 2012. Two anthropogenic drivers—patch area and fire history—increased in importance between these periods. As the strength and number of anthropogenic forces increase, rates of biodiversity change are likely to accelerate in other ecosystems as well.

  • Biodiversity
  • ecological communities
  • ecological diversity
  • ecology
  • environmental sciences
  • plant communities
  • novelty

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

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