Ecology Plant Ecological Responses to Extreme Climatic Events
by
Andrew J. Felton, Melinda D. Smith
  • LAST REVIEWED: 20 July 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 November 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0165

Introduction

The ecology of extreme climatic events is a relatively new focus within ecological research. Early ecological studies on extreme climate events were primarily limited to opportunistic approaches, where observations were made within the context of naturally occurring events, such as droughts. With the progression of climate change, there has been increasing recognition of climate extremes—such as droughts, deluges, and heat waves—as important drivers of contemporary and future ecosystem dynamics, leading to increases in manipulative experimental approaches. In this review we focus on the ecology of plant responses to climatic extremes. We focus on primary producers because they typically form the structural component of ecosystems and are the main pathway for energy capture. In order to provide a holistic literature resource, we address multiple scales and types of responses within each section, from the plant community level to the ecosystem level. What is clear from both observational and experimental studies is that ecological responses to extreme climate events are often highly variable, differing by both the type and magnitude of response, and further depend upon the scale (e.g., individual or community) considered. Observed variations in ecological responses are likely to result from differential attributes of systems (e.g., biodiversity, species’ traits, or biogeochemistry) and climatic contexts (e.g., magnitude and duration of the event, historical climatic variability). Nevertheless, climate extremes often produce large and prolonged effects at the species, community, and ecosystem levels. Observed variation in previous studies highlights both the dynamic nature of ecological responses to extreme climate events and the need for standardized research approaches to effectively compare responses across ecosystems and ecological scales.

General Overviews

The selected articles are meant to offer both breadth and specific examples of climatic trends, modeling approaches, and plant ecological responses to a broad range of climatic extremes. Easterling, et al. 2000 and Stocker, et al. 2013 are key references for a summary of 20th-century trends in climatic extremes and forecasted changes for the 21st century. Christensen and Christensen 2003 and Rahmstorf and Coumou 2011 utilize models to demonstrate the increased likelihood of extreme events amid atmospheric warming. Comprehensive overviews specific to ecological responses to extreme climatic events are provided in Jentsch and Beierkuhnlein 2008 and Smith 2011. Reichstein, et al. 2013 further extends the dynamics of ecological responses into ecosystem biogeochemistry and the global carbon cycle. Finally, detailed overviews concerning plant responses to climatic extremes are provided in Niu, et al. 2014 and Reyer, et al. 2013.

  • Christensen, Jens H., and Ole B. Christensen. 2003. Climate modeling: Severe summertime flooding in Europe. Nature 421:805–806.

    DOI: 10.1038/421805aSave Citation »Export Citation »

    Utilizes a high-resolution model to demonstrate that, despite predicted trends toward more arid conditions, atmospheric warming will increase the likelihood of extreme precipitation events (i.e., those that exceed the 95th percentile). This result suggests that despite decreased average precipitation, periodic flooding events may become a more common driver of terrestrial ecosystem dynamics.

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  • Easterling, D. R., G. A. Meehl, C. Parmesan, S. A. Changnon, T. R. Karl, and L. O. Mearns. 2000. Climate extremes: Observations, modeling, and impacts. Science 289:2068–2074.

    DOI: 10.1126/science.289.5487.2068Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This paper presents a summary of 20th-century global trends in the occurrence of temperature and precipitation extremes, as well as tropical storms. Climate model performance and the impacts of climate extremes on societal and ecological systems are also discussed.

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  • Jentsch, A., and C. Beierkuhnlein. 2008. Research frontiers in climate change: Effects of extreme meteorological events on ecosystems. Comptes Rendus Geoscience 340:621–628.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.crte.2008.07.002Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This paper summarizes past observations and future projections of meteorological extremes and their societal and ecological consequences. The paper further identifies specific knowledge gaps in ecosystem responses to meteorological extremes, and the associated research challenges in addressing them.

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  • Jentsch, A., J. Kreyling, and C. Beierkuhnlein. 2007. A new generation of climate-change experiments: Events, not trends. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 5.7: 365–374.

    DOI: 10.1890/1540-9295(2007)5[365:ANGOCE]2.0.CO;2Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This article discusses the emerging ecological importance of climate extremes and the utility of controlled experiments that simulate extreme climate events. The article further suggests future research needs utilizing manipulative experiments that simulate climate extremes.

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  • Niu, S., Y. Luo, D. Li, et al. 2014. Plant growth and mortality under climatic extremes: An overview. Environmental and Experimental Botany 98:13–19.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.envexpbot.2013.10.004Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This paper provides a comprehensive overview of plant-specific responses to multiple types of extreme climate events. It also further discusses the biochemical, physiological, and morphological mechanisms underlying plant responses, and contains many useful references.

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  • Rahmstorf, Stefan, and Dim Coumou. 2011. Increase of extreme events in a warming world. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 108:17905–17909.

    DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1101766108Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This study utilizes a statistical model to demonstrate that current anthropogenic-driven warming trends contribute substantially to an increased likelihood of temperature extremes. The authors further test their model against empirical data utilizing the 2010 Moscow heat wave and long-term climate data and find strong support for their model.

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  • Reichstein, M., M. Bahn, P. Ciais, et al. 2013. Climate extremes and the carbon cycle. Nature 500:287–295.

    DOI: 10.1038/nature12350Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This article provides an overview of the mechanisms and uncertainties related to extreme climate event effects on terrestrial ecosystem carbon cycling, with an emphasis on ecosystem-level and biogeochemical impacts.

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  • Reyer, Christopher P. O., Sebastian Leuzinger, Anja Rammig, et al. 2013. A plant’s perspective of extremes: Terrestrial plant responses to changing climatic variability. Global Change Biology 19:75–89.

    DOI: 10.1111/gcb.12023Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This paper provides a good review on the relative sensitivities of different plant processes to climatic variability and extremity. The paper synthesizes observational, experimental, and modeling approaches and offers recommendations for future research. Contains many useful references.

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  • Smith, M. D. 2011. The ecological role of climate extremes: Current understanding and future prospects. In Special issue: Ecological consequences of climate extremes. Edited by M. D. Smith. Journal of Ecology 99:651–655.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2745.2011.01833.xSave Citation »Export Citation »

    This paper addresses the importance of shifting climatic baselines in understanding the ecological impacts of climate extremes and the need for new approaches to study the impacts of climate extremes on ecosystems.

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  • Stocker, T. F., D. Qin, G. K. Plattner, et al., eds. 2013.Climate change 2013: The physical science basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    This report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) presents a detailed overview on past and current climate change trends and future trajectories of anthropogenic climate change, with particular attention to extreme events.

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Resources for Researchers

As the number of ecological studies on climatic extremes continues to grow, effective approaches for assessing and experimentally imposing climatic extremity will become increasingly important to advance a mechanistic understanding of their ecological consequences. The following resources are intended for researchers interested in experimentally simulating climatic extremes or linking trends of natural climate variability to observations of ecological responses. Aronson and McNulty 2009 discusses different experimental approaches for imposing heat waves. Yahdjian and Sala 2002 discusses and evaluates the performance of rainfall manipulation shelters designed to simulate drought. Similarly, Fay, et al. 2000 assesses the performance of an experimental approach utilizing rainfall shelters designed to introduce an extreme precipitation regime. Beier, et al. 2012 provides a comprehensive review and offers recommendations for researchers interested in experimentally manipulating precipitation. The NOAA, Australian, and European climate resources (NOAA North American Climate Extremes Monitoring, NOAA U.S. Climate Extremes Index, Australian Climate and Weather Extremes Monitoring System, European Climate Assessment & Dataset) provide access to information on precipitation variability in these regions. Finally, Lemoine, et al. 2016 introduces a standardized statistical tool for summarizing precipitation variability and extremity across biomes. Such standardized approaches will become increasingly important for cross-ecosystem comparisons of sensitivity to climatic extremes.

Defining an Extreme Climate Event

A number of definitions of extreme climatic events are provided in the literature, and given the growing number of studies focused on the ecological impacts of these events, it is important that the appropriate definition is used when considering plant ecological responses to extreme climatic events (Smith 2011, Bailey and van de Pol 2016). Definitions in the literature include those purely from a climatological perspective (Easterling, et al. 2000, cited under General Overviews) to those from mainly an ecological perspective. With respect to the latter, Gutschick and BassiriRad 2003 defines an extreme event as one that leads to thresholds in plant function irrespective of whether the driver (climate extreme) was statistically extreme. Jentsch, et al. 2007 (cited under General Overviews) considers an extreme climatic event to be abrupt, with large ecological consequences over a short duration relative to the longevity of the focal organisms. Smith 2011 was the first to introduce a synthetic definition of an extreme climate event that is inclusive of both the extremity of the climatic driver and the ecological response, as well as a framework of mechanisms that may determine variability in responses to climate extremes. This definition was extended by Reichstein, et al. 2013 (cited under General Overviews) to encompass biogeochemical cycling. Bailey and van de Pol 2016 suggests that extreme climatic events should be defined as rare events that trigger “biologically relevant thresholds.” When considering those definitions that are mainly ecological, this ignores attribution of the response to an extreme climatic event, given that extreme or threshold responses can arise for many reasons. For this reason, Smith 2011 advocates relating the magnitude of a climatic extreme to the magnitude of an ecological response, of which may be deemed extreme either from a statistical perspective, or, as Jentsch, et al. 2007 (cited under General Overviews) and Bailey and van de Pol 2016 suggest, a response that exceeds a “biologically relevant threshold.”

  • Bailey, Liam D., and Martijn van de Pol. 2016. Tackling extremes: Challenges for ecological and evolutionary research on extreme climatic events. Journal of Animal Ecology 85:85–96.

    DOI: 10.1111/1365-2656.12451Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This paper provides an overview of extreme climatic events, their definitions, and steps required to advance research on this topic.

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  • Gutschick, Vincent P., and Hormoz BassiriRad. 2003. Extreme events as shaping physiology, ecology, and evolution of plants: Toward a unified definition and evaluation of their consequences. New Phytologist 160:21–42.

    DOI: 10.1046/j.1469-8137.2003.00866.xSave Citation »Export Citation »

    This paper defines an extreme climate event strictly from the perspective of the ecological response of the plant (i.e., functional threshold), irrespective of the climatic context.

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  • Smith, M. D. 2011. An ecological perspective on extreme climatic events: A synthetic definition and framework to guide future research. Journal of Ecology 99:656–663.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2745.2011.01798.xSave Citation »Export Citation »

    This article discusses the current state of knowledge on climate extremes’ ecological impacts. A synthetic definition of an “extreme climate event” as inclusive of both the extremeness of the climatic driver and the ecological response is introduced, and a framework of mechanisms underlying system responses to climate extremes is described.

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The Ecology of Drought

Among the different types of climatic extremes, drought often produces the largest impacts on terrestrial ecosystem structure and functioning. Weaver and Albertson 1936, an assessment of the Dust Bowl, offered one of the first comprehensive empirical insights into the ecological impacts of drought in nature. In an important seminal observational study, Tilman and El Haddi 1992 demonstrates the potential for drought to act as a powerful determinant of plant population dynamics and community diversity. Allen and Breshears 1998 extends this insight to ecosystem distributions, discussing the role of drought in driving the indefinite alteration of an ecotone boundary. In terms of drought characteristics, Hoover, et al. 2014 provides an example of the ecological role of drought’s duration, in which resistance in primary productivity dramatically decreased in the second year of experimental drought. Finally, Breshears, et al. 2005; Ciais, et al. 2005; and Knapp, et al. 2015 provide regional-scale perspectives on the ecological impacts of drought on terrestrial ecosystems.

  • Allen, C. D., and D. D. Breshears. 1998. Drought-induced shift of a forest-woodland ecotone: Rapid landscape response to climate variation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 95:14839–14842.

    DOI: 10.1073/pnas.95.25.14839Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This paper demonstrates how extreme drought can result in extensive and persistent alterations to ecotone boundaries. An extreme drought within New Mexico in the 1950s produced widespread mortality of semiarid ponderosa pine species, alerting the semiarid-woodland transition zone by as much as 2 kilometers.

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  • Breshears, David D., Neil S. Cobb, Paul M. Rich, et al. 2005. Regional vegetation die-off in response to global-change-type drought. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 102:15144–15148.

    DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0505734102Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This study shows how extended periods of water deficits can lead to ecological tipping points, and consequently widespread death for certain tree species. The study observed warmer and more widespread drought conditions than ever recorded in the study area.

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  • Ciais, Ph., M. Reichstein, Nicolas Viovy, et al. 2005. Europe-wide reduction in primary productivity caused by the heat and drought in 2003. Nature 437:529–533.

    DOI: 10.1038/nature03972Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This article presents evidence for how roughly four years of ecosystem carbon sequestration was offset by the European extreme drought and heat wave of 2003. These offsets were driven by reductions in carbon assimilation by primary producers, with an overall 30 percent reduction in gross primary production.

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  • Hoover, D. L., A. K. Knapp, and M. D. Smith. 2014. Resistance and resilience of a grassland ecosystem to climate extremes. Ecology 95:2646–2656.

    DOI: 10.1890/13-2186.1Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Experimentally imposed a two-year extreme drought and heat wave on an intact grassland ecosystem. Low ecosystem resistance to drought was observed, with the reductions in ecosystem productivity amplified nearly three-fold in the second year of drought. However, this low resistance did not preclude full recovery in subsequent years.

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  • Knapp, Alan K., Charles J. W. Carroll, Elsie M. Denton, Kimberly J. La Pierre, Scott L. Collins, and Melinda D. Smith. 2015. Differential sensitivity to regional-scale drought in six central US grasslands. Oecologia 177:949–957.

    DOI: 10.1007/s00442-015-3233-6Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This study demonstrates how ecosystems can differ in the magnitudes of their responses to droughts of similar magnitudes. The authors assessed the responses of aboveground net primary productivity to the 2012 US Southwest drought within six grassland ecosystems positioned across an aridity gradient.

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  • Tilman, D., and A. El Haddi. 1992. Drought and biodiversity in grasslands. Oecologia 89:257–264.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF00317226Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This paper demonstrates the influence that extreme drought can have on the biodiversity of plant communities. Within Minnesota grassland plant communities, an extreme drought produced persistent reductions in local species richness. However, these reductions in species richness did not preclude full recovery in aboveground net primary productivity in subsequent years.

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  • Weaver, J. E., and F. W. Albertson. 1936. Effects of the great drought on the prairies of Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas. Ecology 17:567–639.

    DOI: 10.2307/1932761Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This seminal article is one of the first empirical assessments of the ecological dynamics of drought in nature. In their survey of the Dust Bowl drought of the 1930s, Weaver and Albertson offer an in-depth examination of the abiotic and biotic alterations to the Great Plains ecosystems resulting from the extensive and prolonged drought conditions.

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The Ecology of Deluges and Flooding

Precipitation extremes such as deluges, which often result in flooding and waterlogged soil conditions, can exert as a great a stress on terrestrial plant and ecosystem function as drought. Waterlogged soil conditions induce a suite of alterations to the abiotic environment (e.g., decreased O2 diffusion) that in turn produce immediate metabolic and physiological responses by plants. These responses have the potential to affect multiple ecological scales, including plant performance, community structure, and ecosystem functioning over multiple timescales. Colmer and Voesenek 2009 and Voesenek and Bailey‐Serres 2015 provide comprehensive overviews on physiological and morphological plant adaptions to environment stress produced by flooding conditions. Silvertown, et al. 1999 and Voesenek, et al. 2004 demonstrate how differential responses to flooding conditions can provide a mechanism for plant species diversity and biogeography. Finally, Knapp, et al. 2002 demonstrates the ecosystem-level consequences for more extreme precipitation events.

  • Colmer, T. D., and L. A. C. J. Voesenek. 2009. Flooding tolerance: Suites of plant traits in variable environments. Functional Plant Biology 36:665–681.

    DOI: 10.1071/FP09144Save Citation »Export Citation »

    A review of plant traits associated with adaption to flooding-induced stress caused by short- or long-term waterlogged soil conditions. Begins with a comprehensive overview of abiotic alterations to the soil environment and the differential strategies plants utilize to cope with them.

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  • Knapp, Alan K., Philip A. Fay, John M. Blair, et al. 2002. Rainfall variability, carbon cycling, and plant species diversity in a mesic grassland. Science 298:2202–2205.

    DOI: 10.1126/science.1076347Save Citation »Export Citation »

    A classic experimental study that demonstrates how more extreme precipitation regimes via fewer but larger rainfall events can rapidly alter plant community structure and ecosystem functioning.

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  • Silvertown, Jonathan, Mike E. Dodd, David J. G. Gowing, and J. Owen Mountford. 1999. Hydrologically defined niches reveal a basis for species richness in plant communities. Nature 400:61–63.

    DOI: 10.1038/21877Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This paper presents evidence for how precipitation extremity in flood-prone environments can influence plant community structure via niche partitioning. The study demonstrated significant stress tolerance tradeoffs in waterlogged versus dry conditions among species, which in turn is hypothesized to have contributed to the high plant species diversity within the two ecosystems assessed.

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  • Voesenek, L. A. C. J., and J. Bailey‐Serres. 2015. Flood adaptive traits and processes: An overview. New Phytologist 206:57–73.

    DOI: 10.1111/nph.13209Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This paper reviews the mechanisms underlying plant adaptive strategies to flooding. The paper considers multiple aspects of plant responses, from molecular to physiological adjustments as well as the role of developmental plasticity in adapting to flooded conditions.

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  • Voesenek, L. A. C. J., J. H. G. M. Rijnders, A. J. M. Peeters, H. M. van de Steeg, and H. de Kroon. 2004. Plant hormones regulate fast shoot elongation under water: From genes to communities. Ecology 85:16–27.

    DOI: 10.1890/02-740Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This study utilizes plant shoot responses to flooding as a model for better understanding species distribution by scaling this trait to the plant community level and species distribution in relation to flood-prone environments.

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The Ecology of Temperature Extremes

Temperature exerts a fundamental control on terrestrial and aquatic ecological processes in nature. Moreover, there is growing evidence that heightened variability in temperature, such as periodic episodes of extremity, are of equal or greater ecological and evolutionary importance as gradual shifts in temperature means. Past research has focused predominantly on the dynamics of heat waves, though we include here examples of both cold snaps and heat waves. Bokhorst, et al. 2008 demonstrates the divergent responses among species within a community to extremes in the Arctic, with this insight extended to explaining species’ biogeography in Jolly, et al. 2005. Garrabou, et al. 2009 shows the potential for widespread species mortality to result from heat wave. Marchand, et al. 2006 provides insight into the ecological impacts of multiple distinct heat waves within a defined period. Larcher, et al. 2010 provides an overview of mountainous plant species responses to temperature extremes (both freezing and heat wave), with complimentary laboratory tests among species. Lastly, Rixen, et al. 2012 presents evidence for how global change drivers may decrease plant resistance to cold snaps.

  • Bokhorst, S., J. W. Bjerke, F. W. Bowles, J. Melillo, T. V. Callaghan, and G. K. Phoenix. 2008. Impacts of extreme winter warming in the sub‐Arctic: Growing season responses of dwarf shrub heathland. Global Change Biology 14:2603–2612.

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    This study presents phenology and growth responses of dominant plant species in response to an experimentally induced extreme warming event in an Arctic ecosystem. The results demonstrate how an extreme warming event can produce differential (positive or negative) impacts on the phenology and reproduction of different plant species.

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  • Garrabou, Joaquim, Rafael Coma, Nathaniel Bensoussan, et al. 2009. Mass mortality in Northwestern Mediterranean rocky benthic communities: Effects of the 2003 heat wave. Global Change Biology 15:1090–1103.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2486.2008.01823.xSave Citation »Export Citation »

    This study provides an example of the ecological impacts of a heat wave on aquatic communities of sessile organisms. Within the context of the 2003 European heat wave, anomalously high seawater temperatures drove mass mortality events of sessile organisms, with the northernmost regions experiencing the highest levels of mortality.

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  • Jolly, William M., Matthias Dobbertin, Niklaus E. Zimmermann, and Markus Reichstein. 2005. Divergent vegetation growth responses to the 2003 heat wave in the Swiss Alps. Geophysical Research Letters 32.18.

    DOI: 10.1029/2005GL023252Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This paper demonstrates how differences in species’ distribution can influence ecological responses to a regional-scale heat wave. The study observed enhanced growth responses in higher elevation species, yet suppressed growth in lower elevation species in responses to the heat wave.

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  • Larcher, Walter, Christine Kainmüller, and Johanna Wagner. 2010. Survival types of high mountain plants under extreme temperatures. Flora-Morphology, Distribution, Functional Ecology of Plants 205:3–18.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.flora.2008.12.005Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This paper provides a review and laboratory tests of plant responses to temperature stresses in mountainous regions. The study observed high variability among plants in their responses to temperature extremes (both freezing events and heat waves), yet also high capacities for rapid phenotypic adjustments to temperature stress.

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  • Marchand, F. L., Fred Kockelbergh, Bart van de Vijver, Louis Beyens, and I. Nijs. 2006. Are heat and cold resistance of Arctic species affected by successive extreme temperature events? New Phytologist 170:291–300.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-8137.2006.01659.xSave Citation »Export Citation »

    This article provides insight into the ecological role of multiple distinct heat waves within a defined time period. The authors imposed two heat waves within a growing season in the Artic, observing divergent responses among species to the first heat wave, yet mostly negative responses as a result of a second following heat wave.

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  • Rixen, Christian, Melissa A. Dawes, Sonja Wipf, and Frank Hagedorn. 2012. Evidence of enhanced freezing damage in treeline plants during six years of CO2 enrichment and soil warming. Oikos 121:1532–1543.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1600-0706.2011.20031.xSave Citation »Export Citation »

    This paper provides evidence for how global change drivers may interact to heighten sensitivity to periodic freezing episodes. The authors observed greater plant vulnerability to freezing events under elevated CO2 treatments.

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Recovery Dynamics and Legacy Effects

It has become increasingly clear that the ecological effects from periods of climatic extremity are often disproportionate to the duration of the event. Legacy effects of climatic extremes concern the potential long-term recovery trajectories and consequences resulting from climatic extremity, and they reinforce the concept that perturbations often produce conditions that can affect future ecosystem structure and function. Sala, et al. 2012 provides multiple hypotheses and a synthesis of temporal precipitation-primary productivity relationships, and also demonstrates that a considerable fraction of current year ecosystem productivity can be explained by precipitation amounts in preceding years. In an experiment within semi-arid grassland, Reichmann, et al. 2013 presents evidence that preceding years of extreme wet or dry conditions can influence aboveground primary productivity positively or negatively in subsequent years, respectively. In terms of recovery dynamics, Albertson and Weaver 1944 offers one of the first insights into the ecological dynamics of drought recovery. Reusch, et al. 2005 presents evidence for how genetic diversity can enhance recovery after a severe heat wave. Haddad, et al. 2002 shows nine years of cyclic oscillations in ecosystem productivity after drought, suggestive of an extended recovery period following drought. Furthermore, in a synthesis of stem growth data in 1,338 forest sites, Anderegg, et al. 2015 demonstrates reduced growth and consequently periods of prolonged recovery following occurrences of drought within forest ecosystems.

  • Albertson, Frederick William, and J. E. Weaver. 1944. Nature and degree of recovery of grassland from the great drought of 1933 to 1940. Ecological Monographs 393–479.

    DOI: 10.2307/1948617Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This paper presents an overview of the recovery dynamics of grasslands in the Central United States after the Dust Bowl drought of the mid-1930s.

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  • Anderegg, William R. L., Christopher Schwalm, Franco Biondi, et al. 2015. Pervasive drought legacies in forest ecosystems and their implications for carbon cycle models. Science 349:528–532.

    DOI: 10.1126/science.aab1833Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This paper presents clear evidence for extended recovery periods following drought in forest ecosystems. The study analyzed stem growth in 1,338 forest sites globally, and found post-drought reductions in growth relative to what is predicted under long-term growth correlations with climate.

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  • Haddad, Nick M., David Tilman, and Johannes M. H. Knops. 2002. Long‐term oscillations in grassland productivity induced by drought. Ecology Letters 5:110–120.

    DOI: 10.1046/j.1461-0248.2002.00293.xSave Citation »Export Citation »

    This paper highlights the potential long-term consequences that extreme drought can have on the dynamics of aboveground net primary production (ANPP). Utilizing a long-term data set, the authors found that an extreme drought was followed by nine years of two-year cycled oscillations in ANPP within Minnesota grassland plant communities, suggestive of an extended post-drought recovery period.

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  • Reichmann, L. G., O. E. Sala, and D. P. Peters. 2013. Precipitation legacies in desert grassland primary production occur through previous-year tiller density. Ecology 94:435–443.

    DOI: 10.1890/12-1237.1Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This study demonstrates how extreme precipitation in previous years can influence primary productivity in following years. The authors found that positive or negative legacies on primary production correlated with preceding extreme wet or dry years, respectively.

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  • Reusch, Thorsten B. H., Anneli Ehlers, August Hämmerli, and Boris Worm. 2005. Ecosystem recovery after climatic extremes enhanced by genotypic diversity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 102:2826–2831.

    DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0500008102Save Citation »Export Citation »

    The study demonstrates how genotypic diversity can facilitate ecosystem recovery from heat waves in species-poor communities. The study assessed the responses of species-poor seagrass communities of varying genotypic diversity to a naturally occurring heat wave.

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  • Sala, O. E., L. A. Gherardi, L. Reichmann, E. Jobbagy, and D. Peters. 2012. Legacies of precipitation fluctuations on primary production: Theory and data synthesis. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 367:3135–3144.

    DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2011.0347Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This paper focuses on the temporal relation of productivity and precipitation, and further develops the concept of precipitation legacies. The data synthesis builds on theory to demonstrate that preceding low rainfall years typically had lower aboveground net primary production (ANPP) versus years preceded by high rainfall and high productivity.

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