5 years ago

Direct and indirect effects of episodic frost on plant growth and reproduction in subalpine wildflowers

Direct and indirect effects of episodic frost on plant growth and reproduction in subalpine wildflowers
Gabriella L. Pardee, Rebecca E. Irwin, David W. Inouye
Frost is an important episodic event that damages plant tissues through the formation of ice crystals at or below freezing temperatures. In montane regions, where climate change is expected to cause earlier snow melt but may not change the last frost-free day of the year, plants that bud earlier might be directly impacted by frost through damage to flower buds and reproductive structures. However, the indirect effects of frost mediated through changes in plant–pollinator interactions have rarely been explored. We examined the direct and pollinator-mediated indirect effects of frost on three wildflower species in southwestern Colorado, USA, Delphinium barbeyi (Ranunculaceae), Erigeron speciosus (Asteraceae), and Polemonium foliosissimum (Polemoniaceae), by simulating moderate (−1 to −5°C) frost events in early spring in plants in situ. Subsequently, we measured plant growth, and upon flowering measured flower morphology and phenology. Throughout the flowering season, we monitored pollinator visitation and collected seeds to measure plant reproduction. We found that frost had species-specific direct and indirect effects. Frost had direct effects on two of the three species. Frost significantly reduced flower size, total flowers produced, and seed production of Erigeron. Furthermore, frost reduced aboveground plant survival and seed production for Polemonium. However, we found no direct effects of frost on Delphinium. When we considered the indirect impacts of frost mediated through changes in pollinator visitation, one species, Erigeron, incurred indirect, negative effects of frost on plant reproduction through changes in floral traits and pollinator visitation, along with direct effects. Overall, we found that flowering plants exhibited species-specific direct and pollinator-mediated indirect responses to frost, thus suggesting that frost may play an important role in affecting plant communities under climate change. Frost could directly impact plants through changes in floral morphology and reproduction as well as indirectly affect plants via changes in plant-pollinator interactions. We tested this theory by simulating moderate frost events on three flowering plant species. We found that frost has species-specific effects on plant growth, plant-pollinator interactions, and reproduction. Thus, frost can play an important role in affecting plant communities under climate change.

Publisher URL: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/resolve/doi

DOI: 10.1111/gcb.13865

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