Summer frost resistance and freezing patterns measured in situ in leaves of major alpine plant growth forms in relation to their upper distribution boundary


Dunja Taschler. Fax: +43 512 5072715; e-mail:


Summer frost resistance and ice nucleation temperatures for 33 alpine plant species were measured in situ to avoid the shortcomings of laboratory tests. Species were selected to investigate the relationship between plant stature and upper distribution boundary, and frost resistance and freezing patterns. The species tested in situ were on average 1.1 K (± 0.2, SE) frost hardier than in laboratory tests. Frost resistance (LT50) ranged from −4.5 to −14.6 °C and appeared insufficient to protect against air temperature minima, corroborating reports of natural frost damage. All species tolerated extracellular ice formation (recorded at −1.9 ± 0.2 °C; E1). Initial frost damage occurred at average temperatures 4.9 K below E1. In 64% of the species a second exotherm (E2) and frost damage were recorded between −3.7 and −9.4 °C. In the highest ranging species E2 was not detectable. Frost resistance increased with increasing upper distribution boundary (0.4 K per 100 m), corresponding well with the altitudinal decrease in air temperature minima. No relationship between plant stature and frost resistance was found. Graminoids were significantly frost hardier than other growth forms. Frost survival at high altitudes will depend not only on altitudinal increase in frost resistance but also on freezing avoidance strategies, snow cover protection and a high recuperation capacity.