Annals of Forest Science

, 75:86 | Cite as

Seed mass predicts migration lag of European trees

  • Stavros D. VeresoglouEmail author
  • John M. Halley
Research Paper


Key message

We reanalysed a dataset of tree distribution ranges in Europe to identify which plant traits best explain migration potential in woody species. Contrary to our intuition that tree longevity would best explain the ability of trees to migrate, we found that seed biomass was the only good descriptor of migration potential: trees with heavier seeds lag more.


To cope with global warming, the majority of plants have either to migrate polewards or risk extinction. This is why conservationists value predictive models that can flag plant species that may not keep pace with global warming.


To identify which plant traits best explain migration potential in woody species by reanalysing a dataset of tree distribution ranges in Europe.


We used two statistical approaches to quantify migration lag. A direct approach compared frequency of large trees in the two latitudinal extremes and a modelling approach in which we first corrected data for the influence of temperature and then assessed the influence of latitude over the entire distribution of the tree species.


Contrary to our intuition that tree longevity would best explain the ability of trees to migrate, we found that seed mass was the only good descriptor of migration potential: trees with heavier seeds lag more.


We interpret our results in terms of the well-established trade-off between seed mass and seed production in spermatophytes and discuss the possible functional implications that will result from selectively losing large-seeded trees. In summary, we provide an empirical study on how woody communities will respond to global warming over the next years.


Climate change Seed dispersal Extinction debt Forest ecology Global warming Plant migration 



We would like to thank Matthias Rillig for comments to an earlier draft of the manuscript as well as Laurent Bergès, Jonathan Lenoir and three anonymous reviewers for constructive criticism during the reviewing process.

Author contributions

SDV conceived the study and did the analysis. Both authors wrote the article and approved the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

13595_2018_766_MOESM1_ESM.doc (330 kb)
ESM 1 (DOC 330 kb)


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Copyright information

© INRA and Springer-Verlag France SAS, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut für Biologie, Plant EcologyFreie Universität BerlinBerlinGermany
  2. 2.Biological Applications and TechnologyUniversity of IoanninaIoanninaGreece

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