The ecological and evolutionary significance of frost in the context of climate change


Correspondence name Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, PO Box 519, Crested Butte, CO 81224, U.S.A.E-mail:


The effects that below-freezing temperature (frost) can have at times of year when it is unusual are an interesting ecological phenomenon that has received little attention. The physiological consequence of formation of ice crystals in plant tissue is often death of the plants, or at least of sensitive parts that can include flower buds, ovaries, and leaves. The loss of potential for sexual reproduction can have long-lasting effects on the demography of annuals and long-lived perennials, because the short-term negative effects of frosts can result in longer-term benefits through lowered populations of seed predators. The loss of host plants can have dramatic consequences for herbivores, even causing local extinctions, and the loss of just flowers can also affect populations of seed predators and their parasitoids. Frosts can cause local extinctions and influence the geographical distribution of some species. The potential for global climate change to influence the frequency and distribution of frost events is uncertain, but it seems likely that they may become more frequent in some areas and less frequent in others.