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Protoplasma. 2010 Jul;243(1-4):117-28. doi: 10.1007/s00709-009-0104-1. Epub 2010 Feb 7.

Ranunculus glacialis L.: successful reproduction at the altitudinal limits of higher plant life.

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  • 1Institute of Botany, University of Innsbruck, Sternwartestrasse 15, 6020 Innsbruck, Austria.


Biodiversity decreases with increasing altitude, mainly because of the increasingly adverse climate. In the European Alps, only a few plant species occur above 4,000 m a.s.l., among these is Ranunculus glacialis L. Current studies have shown that R. glacialis has a highly conservative growth strategy and low developmental plasticity in response to different dates of snowmelt. Therefore, it was of particular interest to observe whether this strategy is maintained at higher altitudes and to reveal the reproductive limits. We examined the effect of the date of snowmelt on reproductive development and reproductive success in R. glacialis over several years at two subnival sites (2,650 and 2,880 m a.s.l.) and at a nival site (3,440 m a.s.l.) in the Austrian Alps. At the subnival sites, reproductive performance was relatively stable (prefloration period, i.e. snowmelt to onset of anthesis, 2-3 weeks; postfloration period, i.e. onset of anthesis until fruit maturity, 4-5 weeks). Depending on the date of flowering, the mean seed/ovule (S/O) ratio was 0.5-0.8. The temporal safety margin between seed maturation and the onset of winter conditions was at least 1 month. The situation was quite different in the nival zone: the prefloration period usually lasted 1 month, anthesis up to 2 weeks, and seed development 6-7 weeks; when seeds matured in time, the S/O ratio was 0.4-0.6. Overall, R. glacialis shows a high developmental plasticity. At higher altitudes, R. glacialis can double the time taken for seed development but runs a high risk of seeds not maturing in time.

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