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Keywords:

  • bog;
  • climate change;
  • land use;
  • oceanic;
  • North Atlantic oscillation;
  • paludification;
  • winter;
  • survival

Summary 257

I. DEFINING AND QUANTIFYING OCEANICITY 257

II. ECOLOGICAL CONSEQUENCES OF OCEANICITY 261

III. ECOLOGICAL HISTORY OF OCEANICITY IN WESTERN EUROPE 263

IV. POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE INFLUENCES OF OCEANICITY 267

1. Species versus communities 267

2. Case study– Primula scotica –climatic effects on reproduction 268

3. Case study – cranberry production and anoxia tolerance 268

V. MODIFYING EFFECTS OF OCEANICITY ON PLANT DISTRIBUTION 269

VI. PHYSIOLOGICAL IMPACT OF WARM WINTERS 271

1. Phenology 271

2. Metabolic consequences of warm winters 272

3. Warm winters and mountain-top vegetation 274

VII. TREELINES AND OCEANICITY 276

VIII. CONCLUSIONS 278

Acknowledgements 279

References 279

A cyclic behaviour in the intensity of maritime conditions which varies with the periodic behaviour of the North Atlantic oscillation has recently become apparent in the climatic record of northern Europe. Periodic increases in oceanicity are usually viewed as having a positive effect on plant survival, as milder winters, reduction of temperature extremes, low risk of exposure to frost, and freedom from drought reduce many aspects of environmental stress. However, warmer winters in maritime environments may also have a powerful influence in creating habitats that are unfavourable for many species. The dangers of long periods of soil saturation for overwintering plants, soaking injury to germinating seeds, premature bud burst in spring, depression of treelines by increased cloud cover and high lapse rates, as well as the constant leaching of soils, are all negative aspects of the maritime environment. Woody species in which root dormancy is delayed by mild winters are particularly vulnerable to the consequences of winter flooding. Subsequent re-exposure to oxygen as water tables fall in spring can aggravate flooding damage through post-anoxic injury, leading to severe dieback of anchoring roots. Soil leaching, particularly after human disturbance, can induce nutrient deficiencies and the establishment of oligotrophic communities with reduced productivity. Podzolization and iron pan formation have in the past facilitated the processes of paludification in oceanic regions. The resulting spread of bogs and acid moorlands can further reduce the potential for productivity in both agriculture and natural plant communities. Given the probability that current climatic trends may increase the degree of oceanicity in western and northern regions of Europe, the potentially negative consequences of such a climatic change need to be considered in relation to future ecological changes and their consequences for conservation and land use.