Freezing resistance, safety margins, and survival vary among big sagebrush populations across the western United States

American Journal of Botany
By: , and 




Physiological responses to temperature extremes are considered strong drivers of species’ demographic responses to climate variability. Plants are typically classified as either avoiders or tolerators in their freezing‐resistance mechanism, but a gradient of physiological‐threshold freezing responses may exist among individuals of a species. Moreover, adaptive significance of physiological freezing responses is poorly characterized, particularly under warming conditions that relax selection on cold hardiness.


Freezing responses were measured in winter and again for new foliage in spring for 14 populations of Artemisia tridentata collected throughout its range and planted in a warm common garden. The relationships of the freezing responses to survival were evaluated in the warm garden and in two colder gardens.


Winter and spring freezing resistance were not correlated and appeared to be under differing selection regimes, as evident in correlations with different population climate of origin variables. All populations resisted considerably lower temperatures in winter than in spring, with populations from more continental climates showing narrower freezing safety margins (difference in temperatures at which ice‐nucleation occurs and 50% reduction in chlorophyll fluorescence occurs) in spring. Populations with greater winter freezing resistance had lower survivorship in the warmest garden, while populations with greater spring freezing resistance had lower survivorship in a colder garden.


These survivorship patterns relative to physiological thresholds suggest excess freezing resistance may incur a survival cost that likely relates to a trade‐off between carbon gain and freezing resistance during critical periods of moisture availability. This cost has implications for seed moved from cooler to warmer environments and for plants growing in warming environments.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Freezing resistance, safety margins, and survival vary among big sagebrush populations across the western United States
Series title American Journal of Botany
DOI 10.1002/ajb2.1320
Volume 106
Issue 7
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher Botanical Society of America
Contributing office(s) Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center
Description 13 p.
First page 922
Last page 934