Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Susan W. Beatty

Second Advisor

Peter Blanken

Third Advisor

Thomas Veblen

Fourth Advisor

Carol Wessman

Fifth Advisor

Timothy Seastedt


Fine scale studies are rarely performed to address landscape level responses to microclimatic variability. Is it the timing, distribution, and magnitude of soil temperature and moisture that affects what species emerge each season and, in turn, their resilience to fluctuations in microclimate. For this dissertation research, I evaluated the response of vegetation change to microclimatic variability within two communities over a three year period (2009-2012) utilizing 25 meter transects at two locations along the Front Range of Colorado near Boulder, CO and Golden, CO respectively. To assess microclimatic variability, spatial and temporal autocorrelation analyses were performed with soil temperature and moisture. Species cover was assessed along several line transects and correlated with microclimatic variability. Spatial and temporal autocorrelograms are useful tools in identifying the degree of dependency of soil temperature and moisture on the distance and time between pairs of measurements. With this analysis I found that a meter spatial resolution and two-hour measurements are sufficient to capture the fine scale variability in soil properties throughout the year. By comparing this to in situ measurements of soil properties and species percent cover I found that there are several plant functional types and/or species origin in particular that are more sensitive to variations in temperature and moisture than others. When all seasons, locations, correlations, and regional climate are looked at, it is the month of March that stands out in terms of significance. Additionally, of all of the vegetation types represented at these two sites C4, C3, native, non-native, and forb species seem to be the most sensitive to fluctuations in soil temperature, moisture, and regional climate in the spring season. The steady decline in percent species cover the study period and subsequent decrease in percent species cover and size at both locations may indicate that certain are unable to respond to continually higher temperatures and lower moisture availability that is inevitable with future climatic variability.