Survival vs. growth trade-off in early recruitment challenges global warming impacts on Mediterranean mountain trees

Raquel Benavides, Adrián Escudero, Lluís Coll, Pablo Ferrandis, Fabrice Gouriveau, José A. Hódar, Romà Ogaya, Sonia G. Rabasa, Elena Granda, Blanca P. Santamaría, Jordi Martínez-Vilalta, Regino Zamora, Josep M. Espelta, Josep Peñuelas, Fernando Valladares

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


© 2015 Geobotanisches Institut ETH, Stiftung Ruebel. Climate change is expected to alter the geographic distribution of many plant species worldwide. However, there is still no clear evidence showing a generalised direction and magnitude of these distribution shifts. Here, we have surveyed, in nine mountainous regions in Spain, an array of tree species along entire elevational ranges, as surrogates of their global climatic ranges, to test for elevational shifts towards cooler locations. We analysed the distribution recruitment patterns of five dominant tree species, recording the abundance and measuring the primary growth of juveniles in 306 plots. Three of the species have a temperate-boreal distribution with populations at their southern edge in the Mediterranean mountain ranges: Pinus sylvestris, Pinus uncinata and Fagus sylvatica; and the other two species have a Mediterranean distribution: Quercus ilex and Pinus nigra. Despite the contrasting phylogenies and biogeographies, we identified a similar pattern in recruitment abundance across species, with an asymmetric distribution of juveniles (more recruits in the middle-upper elevation of their range), but higher annual growths at lower elevations. This survival-growth trade-off at the early recruitment stage may potentially counterbalance at population level the negative effect of global warming on recruit survival at the lower edge of species ranges. These findings suggest a demographic stabilisation process at the early recruitment stage of these tree species, and highlight the importance of considering the different demographic stages across the whole climatic range to understand the effects that climate change may exert on species distributions and population dynamics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)369-378
JournalPerspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2015


  • Climate change
  • Climatic gradient
  • Demographic stabilising processes
  • Elevational shift
  • Forest regeneration
  • Mediterranean forests
  • Species distribution

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