The role of microclimate for the performance and distribution of forest plants

University dissertation from Stockholm : Department of Ecology, Environment and Plant Sciences, Stockholm University

Abstract: Microclimatic gradients may have large influence on individual vital rates and population growth rates of species, and limit their distributions. Therefore, I focused on the influence of microclimate on individual performance and distribution of species. Further, I examined differences in how microclimate affect species with contrasting distributions or different ecophysiological traits, and populations within species. More specifically, I investigated the performance of northern and southern distributed forest bryophytes that were transplanted across microclimatic gradients, and the timing of vegetative and reproductive development among northern, marginal and more southern populations of a forest herb in a common garden. Also, I compared the landscape and continental distributions across forest bryophytes and vascular plants and, thus, their distribution limiting factors at different spatial scales. Lastly, I examined the population dynamics across microclimatic gradients of transplants from northern and southern populations of a forest moss. The effects of microclimatic conditions on performance differed among bryophytes with contrasting distributions. There were no clear differences between northern and southern populations in the timing of development of a forest herb or in the population dynamics of a moss. However, within each region there was a differentiation of the forest herb populations, related to variation in local climatic conditions and in the south also to proportion of deciduous trees. The continental distributions of species were reflected in their landscape distributions and vice versa, in terms of their occurrence optima for climatic variables. The variation in landscape climatic optima was, however, larger than predicted, which limit the precision for predictions of microrefugia. Probably, the distributions of vascular plants were more affected by temperature than the distributions of bryophytes. Bryophytes are sensitive to moisture conditions, which was demonstrated by a correlation between evaporation and the population growth rate of a forest moss. We might be able to predict species’ landscape scale distributions by linking microclimatic conditions to their population growth rates, via their vital rates, and infer larger scale distribution patterns.