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Symp Soc Exp Biol. 1988;42:59-75.

Temperature and the distribution of plant species.

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  • 1Department of Botany, University of Cambridge, UK.


An understanding of the mechanisms by which temperature influences the distribution of species and vegetation has been attempted by modelling population growth and establishing those stages of the plant life cycle which, when diminished by extremes of temperature, for example, may have the greatest impact on plant survival. This analysis suggests that the heat sum of the growing season, measured as day-degrees, controls the distribution of annual vegetation. For perennial vegetation both the heat sum of the growing season and the annual, absolute minimum temperature are critical. Climatic correlations and experimental analyses indicate that, in northern Europe, the northern latitudinal and upper altitudinal limits of lowland and southern vegetation are directly controlled by climate. In contrast, the southern and lower altitudinal limits of upland and northern vegetation are likely to be controlled by temperature-sensitive competition with southern or lowland species. Many of the temperature-sensitive processes of plant growth and development, such as the non-linearity of extension growth and variations in the threshold temperatures of processes, may increase the realized heat sum at a particular geographical location. However, in more northerly climates, photoperiodic control is crucial in avoiding precocious development in the highly variable climatic conditions of early spring.

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