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American Journal of Botany


Premise of the Study

Extreme weather events can injure plants, causing decreased survival. However, we may underestimate the ecological importance of extreme events if they have strong sublethal effects that manifest after several months. We tested the hypothesis that late-winter extreme-cold events decrease the ability of woody plants to grow and tolerate stem removal in summer.


Seedlings from four temperate tree species (Abies balsamea, Pinus resinosa, P. strobus, Quercus rubra) were acclimated to winter conditions in growth chambers, and experienced 1 week of warm temperatures before being exposed to one of three 24-h extreme-cold events (minimum temperature: 8°C control, −8°C, or −16°C). Seedlings were then transferred to a greenhouse where we monitored survival and growth. Three months after the extreme-cold event, we mimicked an herbivore attack by removing either 25% or 75% of new stem growth from seedlings of two species (P. resinosa, Q. rubra).

Key Results

While extreme cold had no immediate effect on seedling survival, the coldest temperature treatment reduced stem growth 51% relative to controls. Stem removal decreased P. resinosa survival in the −16°C treatment, but stem removal treatment had no effect on P. resinosa survival in the intermediate −8°C treatment or 8°C control. Stem removal did not alter Q. rubra survival.


Ephemeral late-winter cold temperatures can have unappreciated effects on growing-season seedling dynamics, including growth and herbivory. For predicting how extreme-cold events might alter large-scale patterns of tree distribution, seedlings should be monitored throughout the growing season following extreme late-winter frosts.









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Abies balsamea, cold hardiness, extreme event, false spring, Pinus resinosa, Pinus strobus, Quercus rubra, winter climate change




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This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Guiden, P. W., Connolly, B. M., and Orrock, J. L.. 2018. Extreme cold consistently reduces seedling growth but has species-specific effects on browse tolerance in summer. American Journal of Botany105( 12): 2075– 2080, which has been published in final form at doi:10.1002/ajb2.1203. This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions. This article may not be enhanced, enriched or otherwise transformed into a derivative work, without express permission from Wiley or by statutory rights under applicable legislation. Copyright notices must not be removed, obscured or modified. The article must be linked to Wiley’s version of record on Wiley Online Library and any embedding, framing or otherwise making available the article or pages thereof by third parties from platforms, services and websites other than Wiley Online Library must be prohibited.



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