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Oecologia. 2013 Mar;171(3):679-91. doi: 10.1007/s00442-012-2582-7. Epub 2013 Feb 6.

Flowering phenology and reproductive fitness along a mountain slope: maladaptive responses to transplantation to a warmer climate in Campanula thyrsoides.

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Institute of Botany, University of Basel, Schönbeinstrasse 6, 4056 Basel, Switzerland.


In many biomes, global warming has resulted in advanced and longer growing seasons, which has often led to earlier flowering in plant taxa. Elevational gradients are ideal to study the effects of global warming as they allow transplantation of plants from their original cooler higher elevations down to elevations with a prospective climate. We transplanted plants from ten populations of the European alpine monocarpic herb species Campanula thyrsoides L. to three sites along a steep mountain slope (600, 1,235 and 1,850 m above sea level) in the Swiss Alps and asked whether reproductive phenology adjusts plastically to elevation and if these responses were adaptive, i.e. increased the fitness of plants. We further assessed current genetic differentiation in phenotypic traits and whether any such origin effects were due to adaptation to climatic conditions of origin. Our results showed that transplantation to lower elevations caused strong shifts in phenology, with plants starting growth and flowering earlier than plants placed at higher elevations. However, compared to flower production at high elevation, number of flowers per plant decreased 21 % at mid- and 61 % at low elevation. The shift in phenology thus came with a high cost in fitness, and we suggest that phenology is maladaptive when C. thyrsoides faces temperature conditions deviating from its natural amplitude. We conclude that the frequently reported phenological shift in plant species as a response to global warming may include heavy fitness costs that may hamper species survival.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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