Temperature effects on forest herbs assessed by warming and transplant experiments along a latitudinal gradient

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Slow-colonizing forest understorey plants are probably not able to rapidly adjust their distribution range following large-scale climate change. Therefore, the acclimation potential to climate change within their actual occupied habitats will likely be key for their short- and long-term persistence. We combined transplant experiments along a latitudinal gradient with open-top chambers to assess the effects of temperature on phenology, growth and reproductive performance of multiple populations of slow-colonizing understorey plants, using the spring flowering geophytic forb Anemone nemorosa and the early summer flowering grass Milium effusum as study species. In both species, emergence time and start of flowering clearly advanced with increasing temperatures. Vegetative growth (plant height, aboveground biomass) and reproductive success (seed mass, seed germination and germinable seed output) of A. nemorosa benefited from higher temperatures. Climate warming may thus increase future competitive ability and colonization rates of this species. Apart from the effects on phenology, growth and reproductive performance of M. effusum generally decreased when transplanted southwards (e.g., plant size and number of individuals decreased towards the south) and was probably more limited by light availability in the south. Specific leaf area of both species increased when transplanted southwards, but decreased with open-top chamber installation in A. nemorosa. In general, individuals of both species transplanted at the home site performed best, suggesting local adaptation. We conclude that contrasting understorey plants may display divergent plasticity in response to changing temperatures which may alter future understorey community dynamics.

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