Short-term responses to warming vary between native vs. exotic species and with latitude in an early successional plant community.
Climate change is expected to favor exotic plant species over native species, because exotics tend to have wider climatic tolerances and greater phenological plasticity, and also because climate change may intensify enemy release. Here, we examine direct effects of warming (+1.8 °C above ambient) on plant abundance and phenology, as well as indirect effects of warming propagated through herbivores, in two heavily invaded plant communities in Michigan, USA, separated by approximately three degrees latitude. At the northern site, warming increased exotic plant abundance by 19% but decreased native plant abundance by 31%, indicating that exotic species may be favored in a warmer world. Warming also resulted in earlier spring green-up (1.65±0.77 days), earlier flowering (2.18±0.92 days), and greater damage by herbivores (twofold increase), affecting exotic and native species equally. Contrary to expectations, native and exotic plants experienced similar amounts of herbivory. Warming did not have strong ecological effects at the southern site, only resulting in a delay of flowering time by 2.42±0.83 days for both native and exotic species. Consistent with the enemy release hypothesis, exotic plants experienced less herbivory than native plants at the southern site. Herbivory was lower under warming for both exotic and native species at the southern site. Thus, climate warming may favor exotic over native plant species, but the response is likely to depend on additional environmental and individual species' traits.