Shrub seedling survival under climate change - comparing natural and experimental rainfall gradients

Anne Rysavy, Merav Seifan*, Marcelo Sternberg, Katja Tielbörger

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Predicting responses of plant communities to environmental changes is a key challenge in ecology. Here we examined climate-related mechanisms regulating seedling dynamics of a common Mediterranean shrub. Our objective was to analyze effects of water availability on seedling survival and to determine whether geographical gradients can serve as proxy for predicting local climate change effects. We conducted a field experiment along a natural rainfall gradient with additional long-term rainfall manipulations at a Mediterranean site, enabling the investigation of the relative importance of biotic and abiotic factors on seedling dynamics. Along the natural and artificial rainfall gradient seedling survival increased with increasing soil water availability. However, seedling survival at the Mediterranean site yielded a clear trend of decreasing seedling survival with artificially increasing aridity whereas at the dry end of the geographical gradient seedling survival was relatively high. We attribute this pattern to biotic interactions, which appeared less negative at the dry end. These findings indicate that ignoring biotic interactions is misleading when predicting shifts in the distribution of species under climate change and that because of the complex interplay between abiotic and biotic factors, environmental gradients can be poor proxies for predicting the response of plant species to climate change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14-21
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Arid Environments
StatePublished - Dec 2014


  • Biotic interactions
  • Climate change manipulations
  • Drought stress
  • Environmental gradient
  • Mediterranean
  • Seedling survival


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