Freezing temperatures restrict woody plant recruitment and restoration efforts in abandoned montane pastures

Global Ecology and Conservation
By: , and 



Tropical montane forests are being lost at an alarming rate but harbor some of the globe’s most unique biodiversity. The Hawaiian archipelago is a prime example of the importance of high elevation forests to species conservation and persistence as they serve as the last refugia for Hawaiian birds. Yet these forests have been converted to invasive dominated pastures, and efforts to restore them have been met with limited success. Unsuccessful forest restoration may be due to freezing temperatures acting as a demographic bottleneck by killing seedlings recruiting into pastures. We determined freezing tolerances of eight common native woody plants at a high-elevation forest on Hawaiʻi Island and compared these freezing tolerances to two years of site-specific winter temperatures and 17 years of regional temperature records. Low temperature extremes were more severe and common in pastures than under nearby 30-year-old canopy trees. Freezing temperatures over two years were severe enough to damage leaf tissues of six of eight species tested. Those species that displayed the greatest freezing tolerance were also those found naturally recruiting into open pastures. Temperature trends over the past 17 years show monthly minimum temperatures are not increasing as predicted by climate change. Persistent severe freezing events may limit seedling recruitment in the pasture, slowing native woody plant expansion into these abandoned pastures. The species-level differences in freezing tolerance show that current management actions are using species that are at high risk to freezing damage outside of the forest canopy and that alternative species may warrant consideration.

    Publication type Article
    Publication Subtype Journal Article
    Title Freezing temperatures restrict woody plant recruitment and restoration efforts in abandoned montane pastures
    Series title Global Ecology and Conservation
    DOI 10.1016/j.gecco.2021.e01462
    Volume 26
    Year Published 2021
    Language English
    Publisher Elsevier
    Contributing office(s) Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center
    Description e01462, 10 p.
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