, Volume 155, Issue 4, pp 717-728
Date: 19 Jan 2008

Germination behaviour of annual plants under changing climatic conditions: separating local and regional environmental effects

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Abstract

The role of local adaptation and factors other than climate in determining extinction probabilities of species under climate change has not been yet explicitly studied. Here we performed a field experiment with annual plants growing along a steep climatic gradient in Israel to isolate climatic effects for local trait expression. The focus trait was seed dormancy, for which many theoretical predictions exist regarding climate-driven optimal germination behaviour. We evaluated how germination is consistent with theory, indicating local adaptation to current and changing climatic conditions, and how it varies among species and between natural and standardised soil conditions. We reciprocally sowed seeds from three or four origins for each of three annual species, Biscutella didyma, Bromus fasciculatus and Hymenocarpos circinnatus, in their home and neighbouring sowing locations along an aridity gradient. Our predictions were: lower germination fraction for seeds from more arid origins, and higher germination at wetter sowing locations for all seed origins. By sowing seeds in both local and standard soil, we separated climatic effects from local conditions. At the arid sowing location, two species supported the prediction of low germination of drier seed origins, but differences between seed origins at the other sites were not substantial. There were no clear rainfall effects on germination. Germination fractions were consistently lower on local soil than on standard soil, indicating the important role of soil type and neighbour conditions for trait expression. Local environmental conditions may override effects of climate and so should be carefully addressed in future studies testing for the potential of species to adapt or plastically respond to climate change.

Communicated by John Keeley.