Winter is coming: plant freezing resistance as a key functional trait

Mediterranean annual seedlings need to survive winter freezing temperatures to produce seeds in the spring. Pescador et al. test whether functional structure related to plant freezing resistance is structured according to abiotic and biotic filters.

Location of the study area at Aranjuez Experimental Station in southern Madrid, central Iberian Peninsula.
(A) Location of the study area at Aranjuez Experimental Station in southern Madrid, central Iberian Peninsula. (B) General view of a semi-arid Mediterranean gypsum steppe where the vegetation is dominated by the tussock grass Stipa tenacissima interspersed in a bare soil matrix colonized by the annual plant community and biological soil crust (BSC). (C, D) Detail showing two winter annual species affected by a winter frost event.

High freezing resistance is extended among studied species, suggesting the presence of an historical environmental filtering. Density of rabbits and presence of Stipa tenacissima L. tussocks also modulate resistance to freezing events. Therefore, traits that allow plants to deal with herbivory may also promote freezing resistance, and tussocks can act as nurses via amelioration of harsher winter conditions. The study represents a significant advance in understanding the assembly of winter annual communities.

Reference List

Pescador, D. S., Sánchez, A. M., Luzuriaga, A. L., Sierra-Almeida, A., & Escudero, A. (2017). Winter is coming: plant freezing resistance as a key functional trait for the assembly of annual Mediterranean communities. Annals of Botany, 121(2), 335–344. https://doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcx166