Effects of climate change on boreal wetland and riparian vegetation

University dissertation from Institutionen för ekologi, miljö och geovetenskap, Department of Ecology and Environmental Sciences

Abstract: Models of climate change predict that temperature will increase during the 21th century and the largest warming will take place at high northern latitudes. In addition to warming, predictions for northern Europe include increased annual precipitation and a higher proportion of the precipitation during winter falling as rain instead of snow. These changes will substantially alter the hydrology of rivers and streams and change the conditions for riverine communities. The warming is also expected to result in species adjusting their geographic ranges to stay within their climatic tolerances. Riparian zones and wetlands are areas where excess water determines the community composition. It is therefore likely that these systems will be highly responsive to alterations in precipitation and temperature patterns.In this thesis we have tested the predicted responses of riparian vegetation to climate-driven hydrologic change with a six year long transplant experiment (I). Turfs of vegetation were moved to a new elevation with shorter or longer flood durations. The results demonstrate that riparian species will respond to hydrologic changes, and that without rare events such as unusually large floods or droughts, full adjustment to the new hydrological regime may take at least 10 years.Moreover, we quantified potential effects of a changed hydrology on riparian plant species richness (II) and individual species responses (III) under different climate scenarios along the Vindel River in northern Sweden. Despite relatively small changes in hydrology, the results imply that many species will become less frequent than today, with stochastic extinctions along some reaches. Climate change may threaten riparian vegetation along some of the last pristine or near-natural river ecosystems in Europe. More extensive loss of species than predicted for the Vindel River is expected along rivers in the southern boreal zone, where snow-melt fed hydrographs are expected to be largely replaced by rain-fed ones.With a seed sowing experiment, we tested the differences in invasibility between open wetlands, forested wetlands and riparian zones (IV). All six species introduced were able to germinate and survive in all habitats and disturbance levels, indicating that the tested wetlands are generally invisible. Germination was highest in open wetlands and riparian zones. Increasing seed sowing density increased invasion success, but the disturbance treatments had little effect. The fact that seeds germinated and survived for 2 to 3 years in all wetland habitats indicates that wetland species with sufficiently high dispersal capacity and propagule pressure would be able to germinate and establish here in their respective wetland type.Our results clearly demonstrate that a changed climate will result in substantial changes to functioning, structure and diversity of boreal wetland and riparian ecosystems. To preserve species rich habitats still unaffected by dams and other human stressors, additional protection and management actions may have to be considered.