What common-garden experiments tell us about climate responses in plants

Journal of Ecology
By: , and 



  1. Common garden experiments are indoor or outdoor plantings of species or populations collected from multiple distinct geographic locations, grown together under shared conditions. These experiments examine a range of questions for theory and application using a variety of methods for analysis. The eight papers of this special feature comprise a cross section of contemporary approaches, summarized and synthesized here by what they tell us about the relationships between climate-related trait spectra and fitness optima.
  2. Four of the eight papers are based on field experiments in prairie, desert, Mediterranean and boreal biomes. Representative of many common garden experiments, these experiments reveal consistent evidence of traits varying with population climate provenance, but evidence of a tradeoff between growth and tolerance traits or of consistent fitness optimization at home is scant, in contrast to trait theory. Two synthesis papers highlight dominant patterns of trait divergence, including for an exotic invasive species. One theoretical paper warned that unknown kinship relationships between populations can result in the misidentification of adaptive trait divergence. A third synthesis paper formulated novel and ambitious goals for common-garden studies through including measurement of response variables at multiple levels of biological organization.
  3. The featured papers discuss multiple avenues for improving common garden studies. Genomic analysis, together with the quantification of kinship relationships, will continue to reveal the influence of environmental drivers on gene selection. Measuring a more complete set of fitness traits, especially for traits related to regeneration, will permit the development of projection models to explicitly link trait spectra, climate patterns and fitness consequences. More standardized data reporting will additionally improve abilities to synthesize findings across experiments. Testing population performance in competition with other species will produce more robust fitness comparisons between genotypes, especially for slower-growing genotypes in higher-resource environments. Adding gardens in and beyond climatic edge locations will furthermore strengthen the understanding of population failure and species exclusion. Finally, there is unrealized potential in adding ecosystem-level observations to common-garden studies that will enhance integrative analysis across scales of biological organization and scientific domains.
  4. Synthesis. With novel, creative designs, data integration and synthesis, common garden experiments will continue to advance the understanding of trait ensembles interacting with climate across scales of biological organization, provide pivotal data for global change models and guide ecological applications such as restoration of habitats for rare and climate sensitive species.
Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title What common-garden experiments tell us about climate responses in plants
Series title Journal of Ecology
DOI 10.1111/1365-2745.13887
Volume 110
Issue 5
Year Published 2022
Language English
Publisher British Ecological Society
Contributing office(s) Western Ecological Research Center
Description 11 p.
First page 986
Last page 996
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