Impacts of a rapid climate warming event on forest plant species distribution along the elevation gradient

Jonathan Lenoir
Abstract : Do plant species shift their ranges in pace with the rapidly changing climate? Here we aimed to assess the magnitude of current changes in plant species distribution to answer this question for a currently understudied ecosystem, namely temperate forest. We worked in mountain environments below the tree-line limit since it provides an ideal environment for detecting shifts in temperate plant species distribution in response to climate warming because of steep and unidirectional climatic gradients across elevation. We addressed our study question at two spatial scales (whole of France and individual mountain ranges within France) and for three different range measures (overall species distributions, life-stage specific distributions, and community composition). At the scale of France, we estimated an upward shift in plant species optimum elevation averaging 65 m for 171 forest species between 1971 and 1993, with a larger shift for herbs, probably reflecting their faster generation turnover. For 13 out of 17 tree species, we found that the mean altitude of presence records for the seedling life stage was higher than for the adult life stage during the studied warm period (1986-2006). At scale of individual mountain chains, we documented changes in plant community composition towards warmer and dryer conditions between 1989 and 2007. A synthetic analysis linking the three range measures to species' biological, ecological and biogeographical characteristics confirmed generation turnover as the most important life trait determinant of the magnitude of the realized range shift. Overall these results give new insights supporting a significant upward shift in plant species distribution coherent with climate warming. It also highlights that warming-driven range shifts are already now occurring in temperate ecosystems.
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Submitted on : Wednesday, July 22, 2009 - 8:00:00 AM
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Jonathan Lenoir. Impacts of a rapid climate warming event on forest plant species distribution along the elevation gradient. Sciences of the Universe [physics]. AgroParisTech, 2009. English. ⟨NNT : 2009AGPT0009⟩. ⟨pastel-00005231⟩

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