Publication Details

French, K., Robinson, S. A. & Lia, J. (2017). Thermotolerance capacities of native and exotic coastal plants will lead to changes in species composition under increased heat waves. Conservation Physiology, 5 (1), 1-10.


With an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme heat events, plants are likely to reach their thermal limits and show slower growth or increased mortality. We investigated differences amongst coastal native and invasive shrubs and grasses to investigate if particular species might be more at risk in the future. Using an ecologically relevant experimental set of heat waves over a month, we assessed changes in biomass and photosynthetic efficiency in a laboratory setting using 25 coastal Australian species divided into native and exotic shrubs, and native and exotic grasses. We also compared three C3 and three C4 grasses within the native and exotic groups. Overall, native shrubs suffered higher mortality, lower growth and increased photosynthetic stress. There was some evidence that C3 grasses, had lower growth with heat waves, compared to C4 species although, in general, grasses showed evidence of photosynthetic acclimation over the month. Increases in leaf abscission suggest that part of the acclimation process was to develop new, thermally tolerant leaves. Our results indicate that in the future we would expect an increase in exotic shrubs and grasses occupying spaces in coastal plant communities that arise from native mortality following extreme heat events. Management of these coastal communities will need to focus strongly on maintaining a diverse native shrub composition that can resist climate-based disturbances (such as wildfire), as well as controlling the extent and biomass of exotic species, if coastal communities are to remain healthy and diverse in a changing climate.

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