Compound fire-drought regimes promote ecosystem transitions in Mediterranean ecosystems

Batllori E., De Cáceres M., Brotons L., Ackerly D.D., Moritz M.A., Lloret F. (2019) Compound fire-drought regimes promote ecosystem transitions in Mediterranean ecosystems. Journal of Ecology. 107: 1187-1198.
Link
Doi: 10.1111/1365-2745.13115

Abstract:

Understanding ecosystem responses to compound disturbance regimes and the influence of specific sequences of events in determining ecosystem shifts remains a challenge. We use a modelling framework for Mediterranean-type ecosystems to assess the effects of fire–drought interactions on long-term vegetation dynamics and to identify disturbance-driven changes in trait composition (tree seeder vs. tree resprouter prevalence) and ecosystem state (forest vs. non-forest). Changes in tree seeder and the tree resprouter dominance show nonlinear, threshold-type trends over gradients of increasing compound disturbance frequency. Vegetation composition thresholds mostly occur in a narrow range of the compound fire–drought disturbance space. Additionally, trait compositional switches and the likelihood of sudden changes in ecosystem state are promoted by fire-drought interactions. Distinct sequences of disturbance events cause vegetation transitions, disrupting ecosystem resilience, even under moderate recurrence of individual disturbances. An extreme drought year followed by one or two large fire events promotes shifts from resprouter- to seeder dominance. Contrastingly, a large crown fire followed by an extreme drought promotes changes from seeder to resprouter dominance. This disturbance sequence is also a mechanism strong enough to trigger sudden shifts in ecosystem state (from forest to non-forest). Synthesis. Thresholds of change in vegetation composition occur over a narrow range of the modelled gradients of compound fire-drought recurrence, and the loss of ecosystem resilience is contingent on particular sequences of disturbance events. Overall, our findings highlight that disturbance interactions define the relative location of tipping points in ecosystem state, and that effects and feedbacks of compound disturbance regimes increase the long-term likelihood of sudden ecosystem shifts and, therefore, uncertainty in predicting vegetation state. © 2018 The Authors. Journal of Ecology © 2018 British Ecological Society

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Climatic Suitability Derived from Species Distribution Models Captures Community Responses to an Extreme Drought Episode

Pérez Navarro M.Á., Sapes G., Batllori E., Serra-Diaz J.M., Esteve M.A., Lloret F. (2018) Climatic Suitability Derived from Species Distribution Models Captures Community Responses to an Extreme Drought Episode. Ecosystems. : 1-14.
Link
Doi: 10.1007/s10021-018-0254-0

Abstract:

The differential responses of co-occurring species in rich communities to climate change—particularly to drought episodes—have been fairly unexplored. Species distribution models (SDMs) are used to assess changes in species suitability under environmental shifts, but whether they can portray population and community responses is largely undetermined, especially in relation to extreme events. Here we studied a shrubland community in SE Spain because this region constitutes an ecotone between the Mediterranean biome and subtropical arid areas, and it has recently suffered its driest hydrological year on record. We used four different modeling algorithms (Mahalanobis distance, GAM, BRT, and MAXENT) to estimate species’ climatic suitability before (1950–2000) and during the extreme drought. For each SDM, we related species’ climatic suitability with their remaining green canopy as a proxy for species resistance to drought. We consistently found a positive correlation between remaining green canopy and species’ climatic suitability before the event. This relationship supports the hypothesis of a higher vulnerability of populations living closer to their species’ limits of aridity tolerance. Contrastingly, climatic suitability during the drought did not correlate with remaining green canopy, likely because the exceptional episode led to almost zero suitability values. Overall, our approach highlights climatic niche modeling as a robust approach to standardizing and comparing the behavior of different co-occurring species facing strong climatic fluctuations. Although many processes contribute to resistance to climatic extremes, the results confirm the relevance of populations’ position in the species’ climatic niche for explaining sensitivity to climate change. © 2018 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature

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Cumulative effects of fire and drought in Mediterranean ecosystems

Batllori E., Dećaceres M., Brotons L., Ackerly D.D., Moritz M.A., Lloret F. (2017) Cumulative effects of fire and drought in Mediterranean ecosystems. Ecosphere. 8: 0-0.
Link
Doi: 10.1002/ecs2.1906

Abstract:

The occurrence of multiple disturbances can jointly affect the recovery capacity of ecosystems, potentially leading to changes in vegetation dynamics or loss of resilience. The effects of interacting disturbances on ecosystems are, however, not well understood. We use a model system based on Mediterraneantype ecosystems (MTEs) to examine how the interplay between vegetation regeneration traits and compound, stochastic disturbances modulate ecosystem dynamics. We developed a state-and-transition simulation model including two tree species with contrasting regeneration strategies (seeder vs. resprouter) and a shrubland formation. We aim to assess potential compositional switches under contrasted scenarios of compound fire-drought regimes, and to characterize the cumulative effects of fire-drought (synergism vs. antagonism) relative to the effects of individual disturbance regimes. Our simulation results indicate that interaction between moderate fire and sporadic drought recurrence-as opposed to chronic dryness-can act as a strong mechanism generating highly heterogeneous landscapes in which different regeneration types coexist, as observed in MTEs. Resprouters dominated under individual, moderate disturbance regimes of fire or drought, whereas the interaction of the two disturbances promoted the longterm coexistence of both tree regeneration strategies. However, shrubland expansion and persistence at the expanse of forests was favored by increases in drought recurrence and associated fire-drought interactions, highlighting the potential for important vegetation changes in MTEs under climate change. Overall, the cumulative effects of fire and drought can lead to distinct landscape configurations under moderate disturbance regimes that are otherwise only attained under high frequency of individual disturbances. At the ecosystem level, however, we suggest that disturbance-induced vegetation dynamics can modify vegetation sensitivity and resilience to further disturbances precluding the prevalence of synergistic effects of the two disturbances. © 2017 Batllori et al.

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