Indexed on: 22 Jun '18Published on: 22 Jun '18Published in: American journal of botany
Much research has focused on plant responses to ongoing climate change, but there is relatively little information about how climate change will affect the early plant life history stages. Understanding how global warming and changes in winter snow pattern will affect seed germination and seedling establishment is crucial for predicting future alpine population and vegetation dynamics. In a 2-year study, we tested how warming and alteration in the snowmelt regime, both in isolation and combination, influence seedling emergence phenology, first-year growth, biomass allocation, and survival of four native alpine perennial herbs on the southeastern Tibetan Plateau. Warming promoted seedling emergence phenology of all four species and biomass per plant of two species but reduced seedling survival of three species. Prolonged snow cover partly mediated the affects of warming on Primula alpicola (survival and biomass), Pedicularis fletcheri (phenology, biomass, and root:shoot ratio) and Meconopsis integrifolia (survival). For the narrowly distributed species M. racemosa, seedling growth was additively decreased by warming and prolonged snow cover. Both warming and alteration of the snow cover regime can influence plant recruitment by affecting seedling phenology, growth, and survival, and the effects are largely species-specific. Thus, climate change is likely to affect population dynamics and community structure of the alpine ecosystem. This is the first experimental demonstration of the phenological advancement of seedling emergence in the field by simulated climate warming. © 2018 Botanical Society of America.