Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Shrub growth decreases as winter temperatures fluctuate, triggering premature spring growth

Date:
May 20, 2014
Source:
University of Washington
Summary:
Many have assumed that warmer winters as a result of climate change would increase the growth of trees and shrubs because the growing season would be longer. But shrubs achieve less yearly growth when cold winter temperatures are interrupted by temperatures warm enough to trigger growth.

Discs cut from just above the shrubs’ root collar were studied to determine growth.
Credit: Photo by David Hollander

Many have assumed that warmer winters as a result of climate change would increase the growth of trees and shrubs because the growing season would be longer. But shrubs achieve less yearly growth when cold winter temperatures are interrupted by temperatures warm enough to trigger growth.

"When winter temperatures fluctuate between being cold and warm enough for growth, plants deplete their resources trying to photosynthesize and end the winter with fewer reserves than they initially had. In the summer they have to play catch up," said Melanie Harsch, a University of Washington postdoctoral researcher in biology and applied mathematics. She is lead author of a paper on the subject recently published in PLOS One.

The roots are especially sensitive to temperature fluctuations, Harsch said. Warming winters result in higher root respiration, which uses up carbon reserves as plants make and release oxygen, leading to less carbon available during the regular growing season.

Harsch and her colleagues studied two species of shrubs on Campbell Island, an uninhabited UNESCO World Heritage site in the southwest Pacific Ocean about 375 miles south of New Zealand's mainland. They studied two large shrubs, Dracophyllum longifolium and Dracophyllum scoparium, which are evergreen broadleaf species that can grow up to about 15 feet tall and live up to 240 years.

Researchers found that while warmer, drier winters helped seedlings get established, it adversely affected growth of older plants.

"For growth to occur you need sufficient precipitation and temperature and nutrients. Growth should only happen during the summer on Campbell Island when temperatures are above 5 degrees Celsius," Harsch said. Five degrees C is about 40 F. "On Campbell Island most winters are cool and below this 5 degrees Celsius, so the plants are not active. The plants we studied are evergreen and there is little snow cover, so they are sensitive to changes in temperature."

In this study, researchers cut out discs, called "cookies," from just above the shrubs' root collar, and measured the width between each ring to determine growth. They found that plant growth decreased as winter temperatures went up.

"On Campbell Island the snow is ephemeral, so the plants usually are not covered," Harsch said. "If we're going to see an effect in changing winter conditions, we're going to see it at Campbell Island decades before we see it at, say, Mt. Rainier, where there is a lot of snow and winters are colder."

Harsch said plants in areas like Campbell Island may eventually adjust to warmer winters, but the transition period will be tough as temperatures bounce above and below what plants need to stay dormant, causing the plants to draw down their resources.

"It may eventually be warm enough in the winters so that plants can photosynthesize and grow year round, like they do in the tropics," she said. "It's this transition part that plants are not adapted for."

Harsch plans to do a follow-up study that would measure the microbes and carbon reserves in the soil, and manipulate snow packs to see how it affects establishment and growth.

"How much of this can our tree species withstand?" Harsch said. "Will summer growth eventually compensate for these hard winters, or is this some sort of extra stressor on trees that will be one more nail in the coffin? If you think of all the different factors of increasing vulnerability in climate change, is this really significant? We just don't know."

Co-authors are Matt McGlone and Janet Wilmshurst at Landcare Research in New Zealand. Harsch started the work while pursuing her doctorate at Lincoln University in New Zealand and finished the analysis at the UW. The work was supported in part by the National Science Foundation.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Washington. The original article was written by Doree Armstrong. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Melanie A. Harsch, Matt S. McGlone, Janet M. Wilmshurst. Winter Climate Limits Subantarctic Low Forest Growth and Establishment. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (4): e93241 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0093241

Cite This Page:

University of Washington. "Shrub growth decreases as winter temperatures fluctuate, triggering premature spring growth." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 May 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140520142327.htm>.
University of Washington. (2014, May 20). Shrub growth decreases as winter temperatures fluctuate, triggering premature spring growth. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 19, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140520142327.htm
University of Washington. "Shrub growth decreases as winter temperatures fluctuate, triggering premature spring growth." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140520142327.htm (accessed September 19, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Friday, September 19, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Elephant Undergoes Surgery in Tbilisi Zoo

Raw: Elephant Undergoes Surgery in Tbilisi Zoo

AP (Sep. 18, 2014) Grand the elephant has successfully undergone surgery to remove a portion of infected tusk at Tbilisi Zoo in Georgia. British veterinary surgeons used an electric drill to extract the infected piece. (Sept. 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Chimp Violence Study Renews Debate On Why They Kill

Chimp Violence Study Renews Debate On Why They Kill

Newsy (Sep. 17, 2014) The study weighs in on a debate over whether chimps are naturally violent or become that way due to human interference in the environment. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Some Tobacco Farmers Thrive Amid Challenges

Some Tobacco Farmers Thrive Amid Challenges

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) The South's tobacco country is surviving, and even thriving in some cases, as demand overseas keeps growers in the fields of one of America's oldest cash crops. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Scientists Given Rare Glimpse of 350-Kilo Colossal Squid

Scientists Given Rare Glimpse of 350-Kilo Colossal Squid

AFP (Sep. 16, 2014) Scientists say a female colossal squid weighing an estimated 350 kilograms (770 lbs) and thought to be only the second intact specimen ever found was carrying eggs when discovered in the Antarctic. Duration: 00:47 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins