, Volume 14, Issue 8, pp 1711-1724
Date: 14 Feb 2012

The influence of chilling requirement on the southern distribution limit of exotic Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia ) in western North America

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Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia L.), a Eurasian tree now abundant along rivers in western North America, has an apparent southern distribution limit running through southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. We used field observations to precisely define this limit in relation to temperature variables. We then investigated whether lack of cold temperatures south of the limit may prevent the accumulation of sufficient chilling, inhibiting dormancy loss of seeds and buds. We found that Russian olive occurrence was more strongly associated with low winter temperatures than with high summer temperatures, and results of controlled seed germination and vegetative bud-break experiments suggest that the chilling requirements for germination and bud-break are partly responsible for the southern range limit. Both seed germination proportion and germination time decreased under conditions simulating those south of the range limit. Similarly, percentage bud break decreased when chilling dropped below values typical of the range limit. In 17–65% of the years from 1980 to 2000, the chilling accumulated at a site near the range limit (El Paso, TX) would lead to a 10% or more decrease in bud-break. The potential decline in growth could have large fitness consequences for Russian olive. If climate change exhibits a warming trend, our results suggest the chilling requirement for bud-break of Russian olive trees will not be met in some years and its southern range limit may retreat northward.