National Park Service


Date of this Version



Fisichelli, N. A., A. Stefanski, L. E. Frelich, and P. B. Reich. 2015. Temperature and leaf nitrogen affect performance of plant species at range overlap. Ecosphere 6(10):186.


U.S. Government Work


Plant growth and survival near range limits are likely sensitive to small changes in environmental conditions. Warming temperatures are causing range shifts and thus changes in species composition within range-edge ecotones; however, it is often not clear how temperature alters performance. Through an observational field study, we assessed temperature and nitrogen effects on survival and growth of co-occurring temperate (Acer saccharum) and boreal (Abies balsamea) saplings across their overlapping range limits in the Great Lakes region, USA. Across sampled ranges of soil texture, soil pH, and precipitation, it appears that temperature affects leaf nitrogen for A. saccharum near its northern range limit (R2=0.64), whereas there was no significant leaf N ~ temperature relationship for A. balsamea. Higher A. saccharum leaf N at warm sites was associated with increased survival and growth. Abies balsamea survival and growth were best modeled with summer temperature (negative relationship); performance at warm sites depended upon light availability, suggesting the shade-tolerance of this species near its southern range limits may be mediated by temperature. The ranges of these two tree species overlap across millions of hectares, and temperature and temperature-mediated nitrogen likely play important roles in their relative performance.