Theses Doctoral

Plant diversity, physiology, and function in the face of global change

Prager, Case Mahone

One central goal in ecology is to understand how biodiversity, and key organismal traits, interact with ecosystem properties and processes, and ultimately to understand and predict how these interactions will be affected by rapid environmental change. Thus, global change experiments and observational gradients in diversity provide the opportunity to examine and test hypotheses about how organismal traits, multiple dimensions of biodiversity, and ecosystem function will respond to environmental change. In Arctic tundra, increased nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) availability accompanying rapid warming is thought to significantly alter plant community composition and ecosystem function. The following four chapters examine hypotheses about the responses of species’ traits, multiple dimensions of biodiversity, and ecosystem function to the effects Arctic warming. Chapter 1 examines plant community composition and the capacity for ecosystem function (net ecosystem exchange, ecosystem respiration, and gross primary production) across a gradient of experimental N and P addition expected to more closely approximate warming-induced fertilization, demonstrating declines in plant diversity and an increase in the capacity for ecosystem carbon uptake at the highest level of fertilization. Chapter 2 examines a set of physiological and functional leaf traits across the same N and P gradient in order to evaluate the possible physiological mechanisms underlying community and ecosystem responses, highlighting the effects of increasing nutrient availability for deciduous shrub species. Chapter 3 found that single-dose, long-term nutrient addition (i.e., > 20 years) led to significant declines in multiple dimensions of diversity (taxonomic, functional and phylogenetic), and that these effects persist through time, increasing for dimensions that capture organismal traits (functional and phylogenetic). Finally, Chapter 4 examined the relationship between multidimensional diversity and ecosystem function across a natural gradient of diversity, and found that taxonomic diversity and functional diversity were significantly and positively related to whole ecosystem productivity, and, conversely, functional evenness and dispersion were significantly and negatively related to ecosystem productivity. Cumulatively, these four chapters advance our understanding of the connections between communities and ecosystems in a rapidly changing ecosystem.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology
Thesis Advisors
Naeem, Shahid
Griffin, Kevin L.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 5, 2017