, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 515-524

Environmental responses of plants and ecosystems as predictors of the impact of global change

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An understanding of plant responses to fluctuations in environment is critical to predictions of plant and ecosystem responses to climate change. In the northern hemisphere, the northern limits of distribution of major biomes are probably determined by the tolerance of their dominant physiognomic types (e.g., deciduous hardwood trees) to minimum winter temperatures and can thus be predicted from long-term patterns of temperature fluctuations. At a more detailed level, the responses of functional groups of plants to altered climate can be predicted from their known responses to fluctuations in soil resources (nutrients and water) and the expected effect of climatic change on these soil resources. Laboratory and field experiments demonstrate the feasibility of this approach.