Local trampling disturbance effects on alpine plant populations and communities: Negative implications for climate change vulnerability Public Deposited
  • Global change is modifying species communities from local to landscape scales, with alterations in the abiotic and biotic determinants of geographic range limits causing species range shifts along both latitudinal and elevational gradients. An important but often overlooked component of global change is the effect of anthropogenic disturbance, and how it interacts with the effects of climate to affect both species and communities, as well as interspecies interactions, such as facilitation and competition. We examined the effects of frequent human trampling disturbances on alpine plant communities in Switzerland, focusing on the elevational range of the widely distributed cushion plant Silene acaulis and the interactions of this facilitator species with other plants. Examining size distributions and densities, we found that disturbance appears to favor individual Silene growth at middle elevations. However, it has negative effects at the population level, as evidenced by a reduction in population density and reproductive indices. Disturbance synergistically interacts with the effects of elevation to reduce species richness at low and high elevations, an effect not mitigated by Silene. In fact, we find predominantly competitive interactions, both by Silene on its hosted and neighboring species and by neighboring (but not hosted) species on Silene. Our results indicate that disturbance can be beneficial for Silene individual performance, potentially through changes in its neighboring species community. However, possible reduced recruitment in disturbed areas could eventually lead to population declines. While other studies have shown that light to moderate disturbances can maintain high species diversity, our results emphasize that heavier disturbance reduces species richness, diversity, as well as percent cover, and adversely affects cushion plants and that these effects are not substantially reduced by plant–plant interactions. Heavily disturbed alpine systems could therefore be at greater risk for upward encroachment of lower elevation species in a warming world.

Date Issued
  • 2018-01-01
Academic Affiliation
Journal Title
Journal Volume
  • 8
File Extent
  • 7921-7935
Last Modified
  • 2020-01-09
Resource Type
Rights Statement
  • 10.1002/ece3.4276
  • 2045-7758


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