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Microclimate moderates plant responses to macroclimate warming

Publication Year


  • De Frenne, Pieter
  • Rodriguez-Sanchez, Francisco
  • Coomes, David Anthony
  • Baeten, Lander
  • Verstraeten, Gorik
  • Vellend, Mark
  • Bernhardt-Roemermann, Markus
  • Brown, Carissa D.
  • Brunet, Jorg
  • Cornelis, Johnny
  • Decocq, Guillaume M.
  • Dierschke, Hartmut
  • Eriksson, Ove
  • Gilliam, Frank S.
  • Hedl, Radim
  • Heinken, Thilo
  • Hermy, Martin
  • Hommel, Patrick
  • Jenkins, Michael A.
  • Kelly, Daniel L.
  • Kirby, Keith J.
  • Mitchell, Fraser J. G.
  • Naaf, Tobias
  • Newman, Miles
  • Peterken, George
  • Petrik, Petr
  • Schultz, Jan
  • Sonnier, Gregory
  • Van Calster, Hans
  • Waller, Donald M.
  • Walther, Gian-Reto
  • White, Peter S.
  • Woods, Kerry D.
  • Wulf, Monika
  • Graae, Bente Jessen
  • Verheyen, Kris

Recent global warming is acting across marine, freshwater, and terrestrial ecosystems to favor species adapted to warmer conditions and/or reduce the abundance of cold-adapted organisms (i.e., thermophilization of communities). Lack of community responses to increased temperature, however, has also been reported for several taxa and regions, suggesting that climatic lags may be frequent. Here we show that microclimatic effects brought about by forest canopy closure can buffer biotic responses to macroclimate warming, thus explaining an apparent climatic lag. Using data from 1,409 vegetation plots in European and North American temperate forests, each surveyed at least twice over an interval of 12-67 y, we document significant thermophilization of ground-layer plant communities. These changes reflect concurrent declines in species adapted to cooler conditions and increases in species adapted to warmer conditions. However, thermophilization, particularly the increase of warm-adapted species, is attenuated in forests whose canopies have become denser, probably reflecting cooler growing-season ground temperatures via increased shading. As standing stocks of trees have increased in many temperate forests in recent decades, local microclimatic effects may commonly be moderating the impacts of macroclimate warming on forest understories. Conversely, increases in harvesting woody biomass-e.g., for bioenergy-may open forest canopies and accelerate thermophilization of temperate forest biodiversity.

Author Keyword(s)
  • climate change
  • forest management
  • understory
  • climatic debt
  • range shifts
KeyWord(s) Plus
  • DEBT
ESI Discipline(s)
  • Multidisciplinary
Web of Science Category(ies)
  • Multidisciplinary Sciences

[De Frenne, Pieter; Baeten, Lander; Verstraeten, Gorik; Verheyen, Kris] Univ Ghent, Forest & Nat Lab, BE-9090 Gontrode Melle, Belgium; [Rodriguez-Sanchez, Francisco; Coomes, David Anthony] Univ Cambridge, Forest Ecol & Conservat Grp, Dept Plant Sci, Cambridge CB2 3EA, England; [Baeten, Lander] Univ Ghent, Terr Ecol Unit, Dept Biol, BE-9000 Ghent, Belgium; [Vellend, Mark; Brown, Carissa D.] Univ Sherbrooke, Dept Biol, Sherbrooke, PQ J1K 2R1, Canada; [Bernhardt-Roemermann, Markus] Univ Regensburg, Inst Bot, DE-93053 Regensburg, Germany; [Brown, Carissa D.] Mem Univ Newfoundland, Dept Geog, St John, NF A1B 3X9, Canada; [Brunet, Jorg] Swedish Univ Agr Sci, Southern Swedish Forest Res Ctr, SE-23053 Alnarp, Sweden; [Cornelis, Johnny] Agcy Nat & Forests, BE-1000 Brussels, Belgium; [Decocq, Guillaume M.] Univ Picardie Jules Verne, Ctr Natl Rech Sci, Edysan FRE 3498, FR-80037 Amiens, France; [Dierschke, Hartmut] Univ Gottingen, Dept Vegetat & Phytodivers Anal, Albrecht von Haller Inst Plant Sci, DE-37073 Gottingen, Germany; [Eriksson, Ove] Stockholm Univ, Dept Ecol Environm & Plant Sci, SE-10691 Stockholm, Sweden; [Gilliam, Frank S.] Marshall Univ, Dept Biol Sci, Huntington, WV 25701 USA; [Hedl, Radim] Acad Sci Czech Republic, Dept Vegetat Ecol, Inst Bot, CZ-65720 Brno, Czech Republic; [Heinken, Thilo] Univ Potsdam, Dept Biodivers Res Systemat Bot, Inst Biochem & Biol, D-14469 Potsdam, Germany; [Hermy, Martin] Katholieke Univ Leuven, Dept Earth & Environm Sci, Div Forest Nat & Landscape, BE-3001 Louvain, Belgium; [Hommel, Patrick] Wageningen UR, Alterra Res Inst, NL-6700 AA Wageningen, Netherlands; [Jenkins, Michael A.] Purdue Univ, Dept Forestry & Nat Resources, W Lafayette, IN 47907 USA; [Kelly, Daniel L.; Mitchell, Fraser J. G.; Newman, Miles] Univ Dublin Trinity Coll, Bot Dept, Dublin 2, Ireland; [Kelly, Daniel L.; Mitchell, Fraser J. G.; Newman, Miles] Univ Dublin Trinity Coll, Trinity Ctr Biodivers Res, Sch Nat Sci, Dublin 2, Ireland; [Kirby, Keith J.] Univ Oxford, Dept Plant Sci, Oxford OX1 3RB, England; [Naaf, Tobias; Wulf, Monika] Leibniz ZALF, Inst Land Use Syst, DE-15374 Muncheberg, Germany; [Peterken, George] Beechwood House, St Briavels Common GL15 6SL, Lydney, England; [Petrik, Petr] Acad Sci Czech Republic, Dept Geog Informat Syst & Remote Sensing, Inst Bot, CZ-25243 Pruhonice, Czech Republic; [Schultz, Jan] US Forest Serv, Milwaukee, WI 53203 USA; [Sonnier, Gregory; Waller, Donald M.] Univ Wisconsin, Dept Bot, Madison, WI 53706 USA; [Van Calster, Hans] Res Inst Nat & Forest, BE-1070 Brussels, Belgium; [Walther, Gian-Reto] Fed Off Environm FOEN, Landscapes Div, CH-3003 Bern, Switzerland; [White, Peter S.] Univ N Carolina, Dept Biol, Chapel Hill, NC 27599 USA; [Woods, Kerry D.] Bennington Coll, Program Nat Sci, Bennington, VT 05201 USA; [Graae, Bente Jessen] Norwegian Univ Sci & Technol, Dept Biol, NO-7491 Trondheim, Norway

Reprint Adress

De Frenne, P (reprint author), Univ Ghent, Forest & Nat Lab, BE-9090 Gontrode Melle, Belgium.

  • Belgium
  • Canada
  • Czech Republic
  • France
  • Germany
  • Ireland
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
CNRS - Adress(es)
  • Ecologie et dynamique des systèmes anthropisés (EDYSAN), FRE3498
Accession Number
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