A Mechanistic View of the Capacity of Forests to Cope with Climate Change

  • F. Valladares
Part of the Managing Forest Ecosystems book series (MAFE, volume 17)

From an evolutionary point of view, trees have at least one intriguing feature: they tend to have high levels of genetic diversity, but at the same time, they are known for their low evolutionary rates. Thus, trees are characterized by a counterintuitive combination of rapid micro-evolutionary change and a low macro-evolutionary change (Petit & Hampe, 2006). Trees experience highly heterogeneous environmental conditions and are exposed to extreme climatic events within their lifetime, which could contribute to the maintenance of their typically high genetic diversity (Gutschick & BassiriRad, 2003; Petit & Hampe, 2006). Trees are not only highly diverse but also highly fecund over their extended lifetime, allowing them to respond to high selection intensity and to adapt quickly to local conditions (Petit & Hampe, 2006). Mean antiquity of tree species is one order of magnitude higher than for herbs, which implies low rates of extinction to compensate for their low rates of speciation. However, forest species are more vulnerable to environmental change than this combination of evolutionary features may suggest (Jump & Peñuelas, 2005). Recent studies of Spanish populations of beech (Fagus sylvatica) are showing that the fragmentation of the forests that took place several centuries ago has led to a high genetic divergence of the populations and a reduced genetic diversity despite the fact that the species is windpollinated and the fragments are very near to each other (Jump & Peñuelas, 2006). These studies show the negative genetic impact of forest fragmentation, demonstrating that trees are not at reduced risk from environmental change (Fig. 1). This rather unexpected sensitivity of trees to forest management is particularly important under the current climate change since it can exacerbate the impact of human activities on forest dynamics and natural regeneration (Castro et al., 2004a).


Climate Change Phenotypic Plasticity Fourth Assessment Report Shade Tolerance Understory Plant 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media B.V 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • F. Valladares
    • 1
  1. 1.Instituto de Recursos NaturalesCSIC, IRN-CCMA-CSICMadridSpain

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