, Volume 133, Issue 4, pp 587-596
Date: 14 Feb 2014

Broadleaf seedling responses to warmer temperatures “chilled” by late frost that favors conifers

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Climate change includes not only shifts in mean conditions but also changes in the frequency and timing of extreme weather events. Tree seedlings, as the potential future overstory, are responding to the selective pressures of both mean and extreme conditions. We investigated how increases in mean temperature and the occurrence of late spring frosts affect emergence, development, growth, and survival of 13 native and non-native broadleaf and conifer tree species common in central Europe. Three temperature levels (ambient, +3, and +6 °C) and three spring frost treatments (control, late, and very late) were applied. Development responses of first-year seedlings to warmer temperatures were similar in direction and magnitude for broadleaf and conifer species. Stem size also increased with rising mean temperature for most species, though broadleaf species had maximal height advantage over conifer species in the warmest treatment. Sensitivity to frost differed sharply between the broadleaf and conifer groups. Broadleaf survival and stem length exhibited strong reductions due to frost events while conifer species only showed minor decreases in survival. Importantly, more rapid development and earlier leaf-out in response to warmer temperatures were associated with increased mortality from frost for broadleaf species but decreased mortality for conifer species. This research suggests that compositional shifts in the direction of species favored by increasing mean temperatures may be slowed by extreme events, and thus, the occurrence and impacts of such weather events must be acknowledged and incorporated into research and forest planning.

Communicated by G. Brazaitis.