Different temperature perception in high-elevation plants: new insight into phenological development and implications for climate change in the alpine tundra

Published online: 
9 February 2018

Carbognani Michele, Tomaselli Marcello, Petraglia Alessandro

In alpine habitats, predicted warmer and longer growing seasons will influence plant phenology, with important implications for species adaptation and vegetation dynamics. However, little is known on the temperature sensitivity of different phenophases and on the characteristics allowing phenological variation among and within species.

By integrating interannual micro-climatic variability with experimental warming, we explored how the phenology of three alpine species is influenced by temperature and what mechanisms underlie intra- and inter-specific phenological differences.

The present study demonstrated that alpine plants have different temperature responses during their reproductive cycle, do not have constant thermal thresholds and heat-use efficiencies to achieve the seed dispersal stage and can change their temperature sensitivity to flower along snowmelt gradients. In addition, the length of the reproductive cycle, which proved to be species-specific under experimental warming, does not seem to be the only life-history trait under selective pressure due to the short-length of the snow-free period.

In a warming climate scenario, the phenology of sexual reproduction will be considerably altered, and alpine plants may be subjected to changes in population dynamics driven by altered perception of environmental cues appropriate for coordinating the timing of key life-history events.