Effects of Climate Change on Vegetation and Ecosystem Services in the Colorado Front Range

EPA Grant Number: FP917198
Title: Effects of Climate Change on Vegetation and Ecosystem Services in the Colorado Front Range
Investigators: Prevey, Janet Sullivan
Institution: University of Colorado at Boulder
EPA Project Officer: Michaud, Jayne
Project Period: August 23, 2010 through August 22, 2013
Project Amount: $111,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2010) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Global Change


Global climate change will cause shifts in the distributions of plant species. Current native vegetation communities provide important ecosystem services such as erosion control, soil conservation, carbon sequestration, nutrient cycling, and maintenance of water quality. Climate-induced shifts in the species compositions of these communities may alter their ecosystem services. A very relevant, and largely unaddressed, research question is: how will climate change interact with biotic change (non-native species) to alter ecosystem structure, function, and services? If shifts in vegetation simply involve replacement of species with similar functional roles, impacts on ecosystem services will be modest. However, if climate change creates new temporal niches and novel climates, then it will be the outcome of climate-vegetation interactions that determines shifts in ecological services.


Global climate change will cause shifts in the distribution of plant species. Climate-induced shifts in the composition of plant communities may alter vital ecosystem services. I will conduct a manipulative experiment to examine how changes in growing season length and precipitation patterns will affect the abundance of historically dominant (native) and recently arrived (non-native) plant species, and how the resulting plant community will influence ecosystem function and services.


I will establish a manipulative study in the foothills region of the Colorado Front Range, USA, to examine how changes in growing season length and precipitation patterns are affecting the abundance of historically dominant and non-native plant species. Additionally, I will look at how the composition of these plant communities affects available resources to detect resource-mediated interactions between native and non-native species. This approach will allow for a more informed look at both species-specific and ecosystem-level changes that may occur under different climate scenarios.

Expected Results:

If climate change leads to an extended growing season and somewhat wetter winters in the Front Range of Colorado, then a new time period of resource availability will be created. Non-native vegetation whose native lands possessed climates similar to the “new conditions” may be better able to utilize these resources than native species. One possibility is that the species occupying the new temporal niche will not compete with traditionally dominant species growing later in spring. Alternatively, early spring growth and resource use by non-native winter annuals will suppress historically dominant late-spring and summer species. Regardless, aboveground net primary productivity may increase as the expanded growing season allows for more effective use of precipitation by plants.

Potential to Further Environmental/Human Health Protection:

Research addressing the effects of climate change on plant community composition and associated changes in ecosystem function will contribute vital information for ecosystem managers in the future. It will be important to predict how plant communities will change under different climatic scenarios to inform decisions concerning the intensity and timing of livestock grazing, and the potential negative impacts of non-native species on native ecosystems. Additionally, knowledge of which native and desirable plant species will thrive in future climate scenarios will be necessary for successful restoration projects.

Supplemental Keywords:

climate change, precipitation, ecosystem services, plant community, non-native species,

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2011
  • 2012
  • Final