Reproductive limits of a late-flowering high-mountain Mediterranean plant along an elevational climate gradient


Author for correspondence: Luis Giménez-Benavides Tel: +34 91 488 81 01 Fax: +34 91 664 74 90 Email:


  • • Mountain plants are particularly sensitive to climate warming because snowmelt timing exerts a direct control on their reproduction. Current warming is leading to earlier snowmelt dates and longer snow-free periods. Our hypothesis is that high-mountain Mediterranean plants are not able to take advantage of a lengthened snow-free period because this leads to longer drought that truncates the growing season. However, reproductive timing may somewhat mitigate these negative effects through temporal shifts.
  • • We assessed the effects of flowering phenology on the reproductive success of Silene ciliata, a Mediterranean high-mountain plant, across an altitudinal gradient during two climatically contrasting years.
  • • The species showed a late-flowering pattern hampering the use of snowmelt water. Plant fitness was largely explained by the elapsed time from snowmelt to onset of flowering, suggesting a selective pressure towards early flowering caused by soil moisture depletion. The proportion of flowering plants decreased at the lowest population, especially in the drier year. Plants produced more flowers, fruits and seeds at the highest population and in the mild year.
  • • Our results indicate that water deficit in dry years could threaten the lowland populations of this mountainous species, while high-altitude environments are more stable over time.