Understanding Plant Responses to Global Change: when, where, and why

Department of Biology Seminar Series
Dr. Daniel Park, Harvard University
- | Tedori Family Auditorium, Levin Building

Global change is altering how species, traits, and lineages are distributed across space and time. Here I discuss two of the most dramatic biological responses to human activity; the dislocation of plant species beyond their native ranges (biological invasions), and climate-driven changes in plant reproductive timing (phenological change). First, biological invasions have great ecological and economic impacts, yet it is difficult to make generalizations about traits, characteristics, and circumstances that contribute to plant invasiveness across multiple geographic scales and ecological systems. Following Darwin, I test whether phylogenetic relatedness between native and non-native taxa can predict invasion success, and demonstrate the role of conserved niches and functional traits in non-native species establishment and spread. Second, changes in plant phenology are one of the clearest responses to climate change, and can have widespread consequences for critical ecosystem processes, including carbon sequestration, ecosystem–atmosphere interactions, and trophic interactions. However, relatively little is known about how phenological responses to climate vary across the landscape. Using herbarium specimens and harnessing the power of citizen science, I demonstrate large variability in plant phenological responses to temperature among and within species, and show that climate change is likely to reshape the plant phenoscape in unexpected ways. These case studies demonstrate the utility of integrative, multidisciplinary approaches towards addressing ecological challenges in an era of global change.