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Facilitating adaptation to climate change while restoring a montane plant community

posted on 2019-06-20, 17:44 authored by Christina R. Leopold, Steven C. Hess

Montane plant communities throughout the world have responded to changes in temperature regimes by shifting ranges upward in elevation, and made downslope movements to track shifts in climatic water balance. Organisms that cannot disperse or adapt biologically to projected climate scenarios in situ may decrease in distributional range and abundance over time. Restoration strategies will need to incorporate the habitat suitability of future predicted conditions to ensure long-term persistence. We propagated seedlings of three native Hawaiian montane plant species from high- (~2,500 m asl) and low-elevation (~1,900 m asl) sources, planted them in 8 common plots along a 500 m elevation gradient, and monitored microclimate at each plot for 20 weeks. We explored how temperature and precipitation influenced survival and growth differently among high- and low-elevation origin seedlings. Significantly more seedlings of only one species, Dodonaea viscosa, from high-elevation origin (75.2%) survived than seedlings from low-elevation origin (58.7%) across the entire elevation gradient. Origin also influenced survival in generalized linear mixed models that controlled for temperature, precipitation, and elevation in D. viscosa and Chenopodium oahuense. Survival increased with elevation and soil moisture for Sophora chrysophylla, while it decreased for the other two species. Responses to microclimate varied between the three montane plant species; there were no common patterns of growth or survival. Although limited in temporal scope, our experiment represents one of the few attempts to examine local adaptation to prospective climate scenarios and addresses challenges to restoration efforts within species’ current ranges.