Plant Ecology

, Volume 217, Issue 1, pp 111–122 | Cite as

Marginal Calluna populations are more resistant to climate change, but not under high-nitrogen loads

  • Maren Meyer-Grünefeldt
  • Kristina Belz
  • Leonor Calvo
  • Elena Marcos
  • Goddert von Oheimb
  • Werner Härdtle


The dominant plant species of European heathlands Calluna vulgaris is considered vulnerable to drought and enhanced nitrogen (N) loads. However, impacts may vary across the distribution range of Calluna heathlands. We tested the hypothesis that Calluna of southern and eastern marginal populations (MP) are more resistant to drought events than plants of central populations (CP), and that this is mainly due to trait differences such as biomass allocation patterns. Furthermore, we hypothesised that N fertilisation can offset differences in drought susceptibility between CP and MP. We conducted a full-factorial 2-year greenhouse experiment with Calluna plants of CP and MP and quantified growth responses in terms of biomass production, allocation and tissue δ13C signatures. Biomass production, shoot–root ratios and tissue δ13C values of 1-year-old plants were higher for CP than for MP, indicating a higher drought susceptibility of CP. These trait differences were not observed for 2-year-old plants. N fertilisation increased shoot–root ratios of 1- and 2-year-old plants and across populations due to a stimulation of the aboveground biomass allocation. As a consequence, population-related differences in drought susceptibility were offset for N-fertilised plants. We concluded that Calluna plants originating from different populations developed adaptive traits to local climates, which determined their drought sensitivity. However, the higher drought resistance of MP can be attenuated by an N-induced increase in shoot–root ratios. This suggests that analyses on plant growth responses to global change should include multi-factor approaches with a focus on different populations throughout a species’ distribution range.


Biomass allocation Calluna vulgaris Climate change δ13C signatures Drought Nitrogen deposition 



We would like to thank the Verein Naturschutzpark e.V. and the Naturpark Elbufer-Drawehn for collaboration and for permission to collect seeds in the Lüneburger Heide and the Nemitzer Heide. We are grateful to Susanne Osterloh from the Anhalt University of Applied Sciences for collecting seeds in the Oranienbaumer Heide. This study was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (research project ‘KLIMZUG-NORD’).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maren Meyer-Grünefeldt
    • 1
  • Kristina Belz
    • 2
  • Leonor Calvo
    • 3
  • Elena Marcos
    • 3
  • Goddert von Oheimb
    • 4
  • Werner Härdtle
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of EcologyLeuphana University of LüneburgLüneburgGermany
  2. 2.Institute of Sustainable and Environmental ChemistryLeuphana University of LüneburgLüneburgGermany
  3. 3.Área de Ecología, Facultad de Ciencias Biológicas y AmbientalesUniversidad de LeónLeónSpain
  4. 4.Institute of General Ecology and Environmental ProtectionTU DresdenTharandtGermany

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