Seed-based approach for identifying flora at risk from climate warming
ANNE COCHRANE,1* MATTHEW I. DAWS2† AND FIONA R. HAY3 1Department of Environment and Conservation, Science Division, Locked Bag 104 Bentley Delivery Centre,Western Australia 6983, Australia (Email: email@example.com); 2Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Seed Conservation Department,Wakehurst Place, Ardingly,West Sussex, UK; and 3TT Chang Genetic Resources Center, International Rice Research Institute, Metro Manila, Philippines
Abstract In obligate seeding species, the germination niche is crucial for colonization and population survival. It is a high-risk phase in a plant's life cycle, and is directly regulated by temperature. Seeds germinate over a range of temperatures within which there is an optimum temperature, with thresholds above and below which no germination occurs. We suggest that abrupt changes in temperature associated with a warming climate may cause a disconnect between temperatures seeds experience and temperatures over which germination is able to occur, rendering obligate seeding species vulnerable to decline and extinction. Using a bidirectional temperature gradient system, we examined the thermal constraints in the germination niche of some geographically restricted species from the low altitude mountains of the Stirling Range, southern Western Australia, including seedlots from lowland populations of four of these species. We demonstrated that high temperatures are not a limiting factor for germination in some restricted species, signifying a lack of relationship between geographic range size and breadth of the germination niche. In contrast, we identified other restricted species, in particular Sphenotoma drummondii, as being at risk of recruitment failure as a consequence of warming: seeds of this species showed a strong negative relationship between percentage germination and increasing temperature above a relatively low optimum constant temperature (13°C). We found some ecotypic differences in the temperature profiles between seeds collected from montane or lowland populations of Andersonia echinocephala, and while specific populations may become more restricted, they are perhaps at less risk of extinction from climate warming. This seed-based approach for identifying extinction risk will contribute tangibly to efforts to predict plant responses to environmental change and will assist in prioritizing species for management actions, directing limited resources towards further investigations and can supplement bioclimatic modelling.