Montane Meadows as a Microcosm for Predicting Global Change
The last decade has witnessed intensifying, abrupt global climate change. Despite this impact, we know little about when, what, and how changes occur. Most climate research is limited to studies of the abiotic environment, focusing on atmospheric composition and carbon fluxes. These studies fail to provide adequate indicators of climate changes and their impact on habitats and species. Recent and intensifying ecological changes have generated interest in (Root et al. 2003, Thomas et al. 2004), and the need for tools that can help to prepare for global climate shifts. Changes in ecological (biotic) communities are excellent indicators of climate shifts, providing models to predict changes over time. Montane meadows, defined here as persistently nonforested habitats in mountain ecosystems, make up a small percentage of terrestrial habitats, but they are likely to exhibit changes much more rapidly than most other areas. These meadows are arrayed along a hydrological gradient (from hydric to mesic to xeric) and inhabited by short-lived plants and highly mobile animal species that can exhibit quick changes in distribution patterns relative to environmental changes. Thus, they can provide an early warning system for other ecosystems across the globe. Currently, the extent and range of climatic changes that will occur in montane meadows are unknown.