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Research article2021Peer reviewedOpen access

Thermal differences between juveniles and adults increased over time in European forest trees

Caron, Maria Mercedes; Zellweger, Florian; Verheyen, Kris; Baeten, Lander; Hedl, Radim; Bernhardt-Roemermann, Markus; Berki, Imre; Brunet, Jorg; Decocq, Guillaume; Diaz, Sandra; Dirnboeck, Thomas; Durak, Tomasz; Heinken, Thilo; Jaroszewicz, Bogdan; Kopecky, Martin; Lenoir, Jonathan; Macek, Martin; Malicki, Marek; Malis, Frantisek; Nagel, Thomas A.;
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Woody species' requirements and environmental sensitivity change from seedlings to adults, a process referred to as ontogenetic shift. Such shifts can be increased by climate change. To assess the changes in the difference of temperature experienced by seedlings and adults in the context of climate change, it is essential to have reliable climatic data over long periods that capture the thermal conditions experienced by the individuals throughout their life cycle. Here we used a unique cross-European database of 2,195 pairs of resurveyed forest plots with a mean intercensus time interval of 37 years. We inferred macroclimatic temperature (free-air conditions above tree canopies-representative of the conditions experienced by adult trees) and microclimatic temperature (representative of the juvenile stage at the forest floor, inferred from the relationship between canopy cover, distance to the coast and below-canopy temperature) at both surveys. We then address the long-term, large-scale and multitaxa dynamics of the difference between the temperatures experienced by adults and juveniles of 25 temperate tree species. We found significant, but species-specific, variations in the perceived temperature (calculated from presence/absence data) between life stages during both surveys. Additionally, the difference of the temperature experienced by the adult versus juveniles significantly increased between surveys for 8 of 25 species. We found evidence of a relationship between the difference of temperature experienced by juveniles and adults over time and one key functional trait (i.e. leaf area). Together, these results suggest that the temperatures experienced by adults versus juveniles became more decoupled over time for a subset of species, probably due to the combination of climate change and a recorded increase of canopy cover between the surveys resulting in higher rates of macroclimate than microclimate warming. Synthesis. We document warming and canopy-cover induced changes in the difference of the temperature experienced by juveniles and adults. These findings have implications for forest management adaptation to climate change such as the promotion of tree regeneration by creating suitable species-specific microclimatic conditions. Such adaptive management will help to mitigate the macroclimate change in the understorey layer.


climate change; forestREplot; microclimate; ontogenetic shift; plant functional traits; resurvey; temperate tree species

Published in

Journal of Ecology
2021, Volume: 109, number: 11, pages: 3944-3957
Publisher: WILEY

    Sustainable Development Goals

    SDG13 Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Forest Science

    Publication identifier


    Permanent link to this page (URI)