Multi-population seedling and soil transplants show possible responses of a common tropical montane tree species (Weinmannia bangii) to climate change

Richard Tito, Heraldo L. Vasconcelos, Kenneth J. Feeley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A possible response of many plant species to global warming is migration to higher elevations. However, these migrations may not be required if species can tolerate higher temperatures, or may be prevented if there are other factors such as changes in soil conditions that make upslope areas unsuitable. We used a set of 3-year field transplant experiments in the remote Peruvian Andes to simulate two possible responses of an abundant tropical montane cloudforest tree species (Weinmania bangii) to global warming: (a) ‘upward migration’, in which case seedlings of W. bangii's were grown at their current elevation/temperature but in soils transplanted from higher elevations and (b) ‘migration failure’, in which case seedlings were transplanted downslope along with their home soils into areas that are 1°C or 2°C warmer. We conducted separate experiments with populations from the upper/leading edge, middle and lower/trailing edges of W. bangii's elevational/thermal range to assess the influence of local adaptation on responses to changes in temperature or soil. We found that seedling survival and growth were not affected by changes in soil conditions, regardless of the origin population. However, seedling survival decreased with temperature. A simulated warming of 1°C caused a significant reduction in the survival of seedlings transplanted from the mid-range population, and 2°C warming caused a severe decrease in the survival of seedlings transplanted from both the mid-range and bottom-edge populations. Synthesis. Our findings reveal that rising temperatures are a serious threat to plants, especially in populations growing in the hotter portion of their species’ range. At least in the case of W. bangii, novel soil conditions will not limit the establishment or growth of seedlings at higher elevations. As such, decreases in the survivorship at lower elevations may be offset through upward migrations as temperatures continue to increase.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)62-73
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021


  • acclimation
  • future climatic scenarios
  • global change ecology
  • local adaptation
  • species distribution changes
  • species migration
  • species range edges
  • tropical Andes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Plant Science


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