Frost sensitivity of leaves and flowers of subalpine plants is related to tissue type and phenology

Paul J. Caradonna*, Justin A. Bain

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

19 Scopus citations

Abstract

Harsh abiotic conditions - such as low temperatures that lead to spring and summer frost events in high-elevation and high-latitude ecosystems - can have strong negative consequences for plant growth, survival and reproduction. Despite the predicted increase in episodic frost events under continued climate change in some ecosystems, our general understanding of the factors associated with frost sensitivity of reproductive and vegetative plant structures in natural plant communities is limited. The timing of growth and reproduction may be an important strategy by which plants can avoid frost. In this study, we experimentally investigated the frost sensitivity of eight long-lived perennial herbaceous plant species from a subalpine ecosystem in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, USA. The study taxa represent four congeneric pairs from four flowering plant families; within each pair, there is a species with early and late growth and reproductive phenology. Thus, we control for evolutionary history - and therefore additional traits shared through common ancestry - to some degree, while examining the influence of phenology on frost sensitivity. Specifically, we compared frost sensitivity of vegetative and reproductive structures for each species and asked whether frost sensitivity was similar between species within congeneric pairs or, instead, was related to phenology (i.e. differences in the timing of growth and reproduction). For most species (6 of 8), flowers were more sensitive to frost than leaves. Within most congeneric pairs (3 of 4), the leaves of species with later phenology were significantly more sensitive to frost than the leaves of species with earlier phenology. For flowers, the later flowering species were more sensitive in two of the four congeneric pairs. Synthesis. This study contributes to our general understanding of factors related to interspecific differences in plant sensitivity to episodic frost events of naturally occurring species. The increased frost sensitivity of reproductive structures compared to vegetative structures may be a widespread pattern for long-lived perennial plants. Furthermore, we find evidence for a trade-off between phenology and frost sensitivity, whereby species with later phenology exhibit higher frost sensitivity compared to species with earlier phenology. These results have implications for plant populations, species interactions and ecological communities. This study contributes to our general understanding of factors related to interspecific differences in plant sensitivity to episodic frost events of naturally occurring species. The increased frost sensitivity of reproductive structures compared to vegetative structures may be a widespread pattern for long-lived perennial plants. Furthermore, we find evidence for a trade-off between phenology and frost sensitivity, whereby species with later phenology exhibit higher frost sensitivity compared to species with earlier phenology. These results have implications for plant populations, species interactions and ecological communities. Journal of Ecology

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)55-64
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Ecology
Volume104
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016

Keywords

  • Climate change
  • Freezing
  • Frost resistance
  • Phenology
  • Phylogeny
  • Plant-climate interactions
  • Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Plant Science

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