Beginning with Christen C. Raunkiaer (1904), vegetation scientists have tried to group taxa into ‘functional’ categories that respond similarly to environmental stress. More recent formulas by J. Philip Grime (1979) and David Tilman (1988) have given us the tools to categorize much of the earth’s plant diversity in terms of a few functional strategies. Their early approaches were refined to include soft traits to compare diverse communities across large spaces and over long periods of time (e.g. Westoby 1998, Dormann & Woodin 2002). These approaches are useful because they simplify taxonomic diversity to a manageable subset of ecologically relevant types, and because they can be generalized from local experiments to a broader group of ecosystems. When dealing with environmental variables as numerous as those encompassing ‘climate’, ordered simplifications are necessary to predict the response of communities as a whole, and to analyze the interactions between environmental inputs.
In my research, I measure plant survival strategies to explain climate change-induced shifts in wetland communities. I am trying to make functional classifications that help predict the character of wetland communities in the future and explain the variation in wetland ecosystem function for the Midwest.
I simulate climate warming using Open Top Chambers (OTCs) and document the relative importance of compositional shifts and intraspecific plasticity in determining wetland vegetation responses.
I also use mescosms to control for initial functional composition in hyperdiverse communities and track their responses to the interactions between climate variables.
Finally, I conduct geographic analyses of recent climate change in North America to study the impacts of regional processes on ecosystem-level interactions.