Elevated temperatures shift flower head height distributions and seed dispersal patterns in two invasive thistle species

Trevor H. Drees, Katriona Shea

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1 Scopus citations


Climate change may significantly alter how organisms disperse, with implications for population spread and species management. Wind-dispersed plants have emerged as a useful study system for investigating how climate change affects dispersal, although studies modeling wind dispersal often assume propagules are released from a single point on an individual. This simplifying assumption, while useful, may misestimate dispersal. Here, we investigate the effects of climate change on dispersal distances and spread rates, examining how these quantities shift when accounting for all points of seed release on an individual. Using the wind-dispersed invasive thistles Carduus nutans and Carduus acanthoides, we quantify temperature-driven shifts in the distribution of flower head heights using a passive warming field experiment, and estimate how these shifts affect dispersal using the Wald analytical long-distance (WALD) model; for C. nutans, we use existing demographic data to simulate how these shifts affect population spread rates. We also compare dispersal distances for both warmed and ambient temperature plants, considering the entire distribution of flower head heights versus the common assumption of point-source seed release at the maximum height. For experimentally grown individuals, an ~0.6°C higher growing temperature increased mean and maximum flower head height by 14.1 cm (15.0%) and 14.0 cm (13.2%), respectively, in C. nutans and by 21.2 cm (26.6%) and 31.8 cm (36.7%), respectively, in C. acanthoides. Seeds from warmed individuals were more likely to exceed a given dispersal distance than those from their unwarmed counterparts; warmed C. nutans and C. acanthoides seeds were on average 1.36 and 1.71 times as likely, respectively, to travel 10 m or more in dispersal simulations, with this disparity increasing at longer dispersal distances. For C. nutans, increased growing temperatures boosted simulated rates of population spread by 42.2%, while assuming dispersal from a maximum height point source rather than the true distribution of flower head heights increased simulated spread by up to 28.5%. Our results not only demonstrate faster population spread under increased temperatures, but also have substantial implications for modeling such spread, as the common simplifying assumption of dispersal from a single maximum height source may substantially overestimate spread rates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere4201
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics

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