Author (Your Name)

Tiana Issa, Colby CollegeFollow

Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis (Open Access)


Colby College. Environmental Studies Program


Justin Becknell

Second Advisor

Denise Bruesewitz

Third Advisor

Chris Moore


Elevation gradients have been used to understand how climate change impacts various ecosystems processes by substituting distance across elevation with time, reflecting a previous, colder climate. To monitor the changes in soil organic carbon (SOC), plant community, and functional traits across time in the face of climate change, this study used space-for-time substitution to emulate a long-term study with elevational gradients and revisited the same gradient for nearly two decades to monitor elevational effects across time. With this research, I aim to answer the following questions: (1) How does elevation impact ecosystem processes and alpine plant traits? (2) How does each site’s plant leaf traits and soil organic carbon content change over time? (3) Does elevation affect how plant traits and ecosystem processes change over time? Our results show that elevation shows a s-curve relationship in carbon cycling and causes a variety of responses in alpine plant traits, of particular note is a significant increase in specific leaf area (SLA) for several species with elevation. Overtime, SOC content had slight variations, but was unchanged. Plant communities could not be accurately predicted to change given the nature of the data set. As the s-curve for SOC and the increase in interspecific plant SLA were consistent across time, elevation’s effect on plant communities and ecosystem processes did not change over the study period. Improving our knowledge on the climate-carbon feedback would allow more accurate models for predicted ecosystem effects due to climate change.


alpine ecosystem, carbon cycle, plant traits, climate change

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Plant Biology Commons