Journal Article

Climate warming could shift the timing of seed germination in alpine plants

Andrea Mondoni, Graziano Rossi, Simone Orsenigo and Robin J. Probert

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 110, issue 1, pages 155-164
Published in print July 2012 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online May 2012 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcs097
Climate warming could shift the timing of seed germination in alpine plants

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  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Plant Sciences and Forestry

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Background and Aims

Despite the considerable number of studies on the impacts of climate change on alpine plants, there have been few attempts to investigate its effect on regeneration. Recruitment from seeds is a key event in the life-history of plants, affecting their spread and evolution and seasonal changes in climate will inevitably affect recruitment success. Here, an investigation was made of how climate change will affect the timing and the level of germination in eight alpine species of the glacier foreland.

Methods

Using a novel approach which considered the altitudinal variation of temperature as a surrogate for future climate scenarios, seeds were exposed to 12 different cycles of simulated seasonal temperatures in the laboratory, derived from measurements at the soil surface at the study site.

Key Results

Under present climatic conditions, germination occurred in spring, in all but one species, after seeds had experienced autumn and winter seasons. However, autumn warming resulted in a significant increase in germination in all but two species. In contrast, seed germination was less sensitive to changes in spring and/or winter temperatures, which affected only three species.

Conclusions

Climate warming will lead to a shift from spring to autumn emergence but the extent of this change across species will be driven by seed dormancy status. Ungerminated seeds at the end of autumn will be exposed to shorter winter seasons and lower spring temperatures in a future, warmer climate, but these changes will only have a minor impact on germination. The extent to which climate change will be detrimental to regeneration from seed is less likely to be due to a significant negative effect on germination per se, but rather to seedling emergence in seasons that the species are not adapted to experience. Emergence in autumn could have major implications for species currently adapted to emerge in spring.

Keywords: Seed ecology; seed germination; climate change; adaptation; alpine plants

Journal Article.  6630 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ecology and Conservation ; Evolutionary Biology ; Plant Sciences and Forestry

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