Northward displacement of optimal climate conditions for ecotypes of Eriophorum vaginatum L. across a latitudinal gradient in Alaska. Academic Article uri icon


  • Plants are often genetically specialized as ecotypes attuned to local environmental conditions. When conditions change, the optimal environment may be physically displaced from the local population, unless dispersal or in situ evolution keep pace, resulting in a phenomenon called adaptational lag. Using a 30-year-old reciprocal transplant study across a 475 km latitudinal gradient, we tested the adaptational lag hypothesis by measuring both short-term (tiller population growth rates) and long-term (17-year survival) fitness components of Eriophorum vaginatum ecotypes in Alaska, where climate change may have already displaced the optimum. Analyzing the transplant study as a climate transfer experiment, we showed that the climate optimum for plant performance was displaced ca. 140 km north of home sites, although plants were not generally declining in size at home sites. Adaptational lag is expected to be widespread globally for long-lived, ecotypically specialized plants, with disruptive consequences for communities and ecosystems.

publication date

  • October 2015