The effects of climate change on ecological systems are complex and difficult to ascertain. Our ability to detect the influence of climate drivers is limited in part by the availability of representative data sets. Long-term studies provide an essential component to understand the degree to which climate change has and will influence the ecology of species and communities. These studies can be used to fill the gap between understanding ecological responses to climate change and both predicting and managing for future effects.
I am currently undertaking a research program aimed at identifying the degree to which climate change has played a role in affecting the abundance and distribution of understory plant species throughout the state of Wisconsin. This project makes use of an extensive and well-studied resurvey effort that spans 50 years, a large database of plant functional traits, high-resolution climate observations and projections, and also publicly available repositories of species occurrence data. This integration of data sources will allow me to address questions at a variety of spatial, temporal and taxonomic scales. The major research questions are as follows:
How has the abundance and distribution of understory species changed over the 50- year interval, and to what degree has climate change been a driving factor?
How do functional traits mediate species responses to climate change and can they be used to generalize species-specific responses?
What is the combined role of biotic interactions and environmental predictors in shaping the distribution of species in Wisconsin over time?