Warming increases the spread of an invasive thistle

Rui Zhang, Eelke Jongejans, Katriona Shea

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Background: Global warming and shifted precipitation regimes increasingly affect species abundances and distributions worldwide. Despite a large literature on species' physiological, phenological, growth, and reproductive responses to such climate change, dispersal is rarely examined. Our study aims to test whether the dispersal ability of a non-native, wind-dispersed plant species is affected by climate change, and to quantify the ramifications for future invasion spread rates. Methodology/Principal Findings: We experimentally increased temperature and precipitation in a two-cohort, factorial field study (n = 80). We found an overwhelming warming effect on plant life history: warming not only improved emergence, survival, and reproduction of the thistle Carduus nutans, but also elevated plant height, which increased seed dispersal distances. Using spatial population models, we demonstrate that these empirical warming effects on demographic vital rates, and dispersal parameters, greatly exacerbate spatial spread. Predicted levels of elevated winter precipitation decreased seed production per capitulum, but this only slightly offset the warming effect on spread. Using a spread rate decomposition technique (c*-LTRE), we also found that plant height-mediated changes in dispersal contribute most to increased spread rate under climate change. Conclusions/Significance: We found that both dispersal and spread of this wind-dispersed plant species were strongly impacted by climate change. Dispersal responses to climate change can improve, or diminish, a species' ability to track climate change spatially, and should not be overlooked. Methods that combine both demographic and dispersal responses thus will be an invaluable complement to projections of suitable habitat under climate change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere21725
JournalPloS one
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General


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