Plant Ecology

, Volume 213, Issue 1, pp 1-13

First online:

Response of alpine plant flower production to temperature and snow cover fluctuation at the species range boundary

  • Thomas AbeliAffiliated withDepartment of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Pavia Email author 
  • , Graziano RossiAffiliated withDepartment of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Pavia
  • , Rodolfo GentiliAffiliated withDipartimento di Scienze dell’Ambiente e del Territorio, University of Milan-Bicocca
  • , Andrea MondoniAffiliated withDepartment of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Pavia
  • , Paolo CristofanelliAffiliated withInstitute of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, National Research Council

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Surface temperatures have risen globally during the last 30 years, especially in alpine areas. It is recognized that these increases are influencing phenology, physiology and distribution of plants. However, few studies have addressed the effects of climate warming at the species range boundary, where plants are expected to be more stressed. We analysed 11-year data sets of inflorescence production of four alpine plants (Carex foetida, Leucanthemopsis alpina, Senecio incanus, Silene suecica) at the southern boundary of their distribution range in the N-Apennines (N-Italy), in relation to air temperature and snow cover persistence. Inflorescence production of all species fluctuated greatly and was significantly affected by the variation of the mean temperature of June/July. We found significant relationships also between species data series and the snow cover persistence. Moreover, species responded differently to such parameters. One species showed a significant decrease of the reproductive effort, whereas the other three showed a stable trend of inflorescence production. We have shown that some alpine species are favoured by increased temperature and reduced snow cover even at the boundary of their range, where they are thought to be particularly sensitive to warming. However, the aptitude to cope with climate change might be limited by competition against thermophilous species migrating from lower altitude and in some cases by the low altitude of mountain peaks that prevent species upward migration. The individualistic response of species to climate change found here, support the statement that the composition of plant communities might rapidly change in the future.


Climate change Long-term monitoring Peripheral populations Plant reproduction Snow cover Species resilience