Facilitation among plants in alpine environments in the face of climate change Article - Août 2014

Fabien Anthelme, Lohengrin A Cavieres, Olivier Dangles

Fabien Anthelme, Lohengrin A Cavieres, Olivier Dangles, « Facilitation among plants in alpine environments in the face of climate change  », Frontiers in Plant Science, août 2014. ISSN 1664-462X


While there is a large consensus that plant-plant interactions are a crucial component of the response of plant communities to the effects of climate change, available data remain scarce, particularly in alpine systems. This represents an important obstacle to making consistent predictions about the future of plant communities. Here, we review current knowledge on the effects of climate change on facilitation among alpine plant communities and propose directions for future research. In established alpine communities, while warming seemingly generates a net facilitation release, earlier snowmelt may increase facilitation. Some nurse plants are able to buffer microenvironmental changes in the long term and may ensure the persistence of other alpine plants through local migration events. For communities migrating to higher elevations, facilitation should play an important role in their reorganization because of the harsher environmental conditions. In particular, the absence of efficient nurse plants might slow down upward migration, possibly generating chains of extinction. Facilitation-climate change relationships are expected to shift along latitudinal gradients because (1) the magnitude of warming is predicted to vary along these gradients, and (2) alpine environments are significantly different at low vs. high latitudes. Data on these expected patterns are preliminary and thus need to be tested with further studies on facilitation among plants in alpine environments that have thus far not been considered. From a methodological standpoint, future studies will benefit from the spatial representation of the microclimatic environment of plants to predict their response to climate change. Moreover, the acquisition of long-term data on the dynamics of plant-plant interactions, either through permanent plots or chronosequences of glacial recession, may represent powerful approaches to clarify the relationship between plant interactions and climate change.

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