Variable thermal plasticity of leaf functional traits in Andean tropical montane forests

Andrew J.F. Cox, Sebastián González-Caro, Patrick Meir, Iain P. Hartley, Zorayda Restrepo, Juan C. Villegas, Adriana Sanchez, Lina M. Mercado

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Tropical montane forests (TMFs) are biodiversity hotspots and provide vital ecosystem services, but they are disproportionately vulnerable to climate warming. In the Andes, cold-affiliated species from high elevations are being displaced at the hot end of their thermal distributions by warm-affiliated species migrating upwards from lower elevations, leading to compositional shifts. Leaf functional traits are strong indicators of plant performance and at the community level have been shown to vary along elevation gradients, reflecting plant adaptations to different environmental niches. However, the plastic response of such traits to relatively rapid temperature change in Andean TMF species remains unknown. We used three common garden plantations within a thermosequence in the Colombian Andes to investigate the warming and cooling responses of key leaf functional traits in eight cold- and warm-affiliated species with variable thermal niches. Cold-affiliated species shifted their foliar nutrient concentrations when exposed to warming, while all other traits did not significantly change; contrastingly, warm-affiliated species were able to adjust structural, nutrient and water-use efficiency traits from acquisitive to conservative strategies in response to cooling. Our findings suggest that cold-affiliated species will struggle to acclimate functional traits to warming, conferring warm-affiliated species a competitive advantage under climate change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPlant Cell and Environment
StatePublished - 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science


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