Local adaptation of trees at the range margins impacts range
shifts in the face of climate change.
Kevin Solarik, Christian Messier, Rock Ouimet, Yves Bergeron, Dominique Gravel.
The ability of tree species to track their climatic niche at rates comparable to global warming is of concern, particularly if they are constrained by local adaptation. If a species is locally adapted at its range margin, it could be beneficial for range expansion because it ensures that the genotypes colonizing new areas are the fittest, given that environmental conditions are more similar to the current ones. In trees, local adaptation can slow range expansion when climate change happens much faster than their ability to migrate.
Major taxa studied
We investigate experimentally a series of factors thought to constrain the seedling phase at the leading edge of the distribution of a dominant tree species, sugar maple (Acer saccharum Marshall.). We established a seed transplant experiment using six provenances, representing the latitudinal species range, and transplanted them to 12 sites within, at and beyond the current northern species range margin.
At present, northern provenances provide the best opportunity for establishment beyond the current range, where climatic conditions are more similar than those of the warmer central or southern portions of the species range. Establishment was highest within the species range, but survival rates were comparable to those at the range margin and beyond, regardless of provenance. We also found that the local climate was the most influential factor for early seedling establishment and survival; however, a lack of suitable microsites also significantly constrained recruitment.
Our study highlights the complex interaction between provenance, climate and microsite conditions that is required to ensure successful seedling recruitment. Although sugar maple is currently displaying evidence for local adaptation to facilitate range shifts, it could risk maladaptation in the future if the local climate warms beyond a threshold required to ensure seed germination and a lack of favourable microsite conditions beyond the range.