Adaptation of a widespread epiphytic fern to simulated climate change conditions
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The response of species to climate change is generally studied using ex situ manipulation of microclimate or by modeling species range shifts under simulated climate scenarios. In contrast, a reciprocal transplant experiment was used to investigate the in situ adaptive response of the elevationally widespread epiphytic fern Aspleniumantiquum to simulated climate change conditions. Fern spores were collected at three elevations and germinated in a greenhouse. The sporelings (juvenile ferns) were reciprocally transplanted to each collection site. Growth and mortality rates were monitored for 2 years. Wild sporelings were monitored at two sites to assess possible transplant effects. Habitat suitability, indicated by overall growth and survival patterns, declined as elevation increased. Only the highland population showed significant adaptation to the “home” habitat, achieving the highest survival rates. Microclimate data suggest that the presumed genetic adaptation at the highland site occurred mainly in response to drought stress in winter. Based on our previous study on species distribution models, which projected an expansion in the range of A. antiquum under future climate change scenarios, the populations at the upper margins of the species’ elevational range may play an important role during this expansion, given their better adaptation to the shifting marginal conditions. Our study suggests that intraspecific variation should be considered when determining the potential impact of climate change on biodiversity.