An increase in environment variability, due to climate change, may accelerate ecological changes such as plant invasion, suggests research published in Nature Communications this week. The work implies that future biodiversity changes due to environmental change may have been considerably underestimated.
Environmental change comes in two forms: changes in average conditions and changes in environmental variability. Models predict that environmental variability will increase in the future leading to, amongst other things, extreme climate events. Oliver Bossdorf and colleagues suggest that this increase in environment variability may also speed up ecological change.
The team study one of the most invasive plant species in the world, Japanese knotweed, and find that an increase in nutrients variability promotes the plant’s invasion and subsequent spread. Invasive knotweeds are most dominant, and cause greater damage, along rivers where periodic floods create disturbance and nutrient pulses. As a rise in extreme climate events would increase the likelihood of these floods, Bossdorf et al’s results strongly suggest elevated variability will promote the further spread of invasive plant species.