Functional traits variation in alpine plants growing on ice holes and alpine belt as a prediction of long-term adaptation to climate change
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Ice holes are microthermal biotopes occurring at low elevations such as 500 m a.s.l. characterized by azonal vegetation adapted to higher elevation climatic conditions such as the ones at ca 2000 m a.s.l.. This phenomenon is due to cold air that descends through blocks of material belonging to old, probably post-glacial, landslides, and accumulates over concave landforms, forming a permanent cold-air pool of 4-5 m in depth. The position of extra-zonal alpine plant species in a warmer climatic zone exposes them probably over thousands of years to extra-ordinary abiotic conditions. In this context it is highly interesting to study the possible climatic effects on these plant species in terms of their functional adaptation. Functional traits are important carriers of ecological information and vary also within species, reflecting phenotypic adaptation possibly also related to epigenetic and/or genetic modifications. The aim of this study is firstly to analyze the phenotypic plasticity of functional traits of alpine species growing on ice holes compared to the same species occurring on the alpine belt considering leaf traits. We compare siliceous ice holes (550 m and 660 m a.s.l. respectively) with siliceous alpine sites, e.g. in the Lagorai group (ca 2000 m a.s.l.) in the Italian region of Trentino Alto-Adige. For each key species in each study site we sampled the functional trait attributes of 10 individuals. Ice holes individuals were further differentiated in central and marginal based on their proximity to the cold air source. We will report the results of specific leaf area (SLA), leaf dry matter content (LDMC), leaf phosphorus content (LPC) and leaf nitrogen content (LNC) of selected alpine species. The findings of the phenotypic analysis on functional traits diversity will be, in a second step, examined at the epigenetic level, knowing that modification of levels and patterns of cytosine methylation can generate heritable variation in many plant functional traits.
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