Effects of climate and snow depth on Bromus tectorum population dynamics at high elevation

Oecologia. 2010 Nov;164(3):821-32. doi: 10.1007/s00442-010-1749-3. Epub 2010 Aug 26.


Invasive plants are thought to be especially capable of range shifts or expansion in response to climate change due to high dispersal and colonization abilities. Although highly invasive throughout the Intermountain West, the presence and impact of the grass Bromus tectorum has been limited at higher elevations in the eastern Sierra Nevada, potentially due to extreme wintertime conditions. However, climate models project an upward elevational shift of climate regimes in the Sierra Nevada that could favor B. tectorum expansion. This research specifically examined the effects of experimental snow depth manipulations and interannual climate variability over 5 years on B. tectorum populations at high elevation (2,175 m). Experimentally-increased snow depth had an effect on phenology and biomass, but no effect on individual fecundity. Instead an experimentally-increased snowpack inhibited population growth in 1 year by reducing seedling emergence and early survival. A similar negative effect of increased snow was observed 2 years later. However, a strong negative effect on B. tectorum was also associated with a naturally low-snow winter, when seedling emergence was reduced by 86%. Across 5 years, winters with greater snow cover and a slower accumulation of degree-days coincided with higher B. tectorum seedling density and population growth. Thus, we observed negative effects associated with both experimentally-increased and naturally-decreased snowpacks. It is likely that the effect of snow at high elevation is nonlinear and differs from lower elevations where wintertime germination can be favorable. Additionally, we observed a doubling of population size in 1 year, which is alarming at this elevation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bromus / growth & development
  • Bromus / physiology*
  • Climate Change*
  • Population Dynamics
  • Seasons
  • Seedlings / growth & development
  • Seedlings / physiology
  • Snow*
  • Soil


  • Soil