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Some like it hot and some like it cold, but not too much: plant responses to climate extremes

Orsenigo, Simone, Mondoni, Andrea, Rossi, Graziano, Abeli, Thomas
Plant ecology 2014 v.215 no.7 pp. 677-688
acclimation, climate, climate models, cold, demography, drought, ecosystems, growing season, heat, herbaceous plants, leaf water potential, mortality, photosystem II, plant growth, plant response, recruitment, reproduction, shrubs, snowmelt, stomatal conductance
Current climatic models predict increasing frequency and magnitude of extreme climatic events (ECEs). Ecological studies recognize the importance of these extremes as drivers of plant growth and mortality, as well as drivers of ecological and evolutionary processes. Here we review observational and experimental studies on ECEs on herbaceous plants and shrubs. Extreme events considered were heat waves, drought, advanced or delayed snowmelt, heavy rainfalls, frosts, pulsed watering and flooding. We analysed 39 studies dealing with direct response of plant to ECEs in different ecosystems, with a particular focus on cold ecosystems (alpine and arctic). Although the number of studies increases every year, the understanding of ecological consequences of ECEs is fragmentary. In general, ECEs affected negatively on physiological processes (efficiency of photosystem II, stomatal conductance and leaf water potential), productivity and reproduction, and had consequences on population demography and recruitment several years after ECE. Indeed, the plant responses to ECEs were species specific and depended on the plant life stage and the timing of ECE. In fact, the magnitude of the effect of ECEs decreased over the growing season. Drought had the most severe effect on plants, while heat waves had minor effect if water was available. The overlap of different ECEs had an additive effect (e.g. drought associated to heat-waves). In general, both neutral or positive plant responses were found and acclimation is possible. In some cases, ECEs exert a strong selective pressure on plant species.