Biological interactions and simulated climate change modulates the ecophysiological performance of Colobanthus quitensis in the Antarctic ecosystem

Cristian Torres-Díaz, Jorge Gallardo-Cerda, Paris Lavin, Roámulo Oses, Fernando Carrasco-Urra, Cristian Atala, Ian S. Acuña-Rodríguez, Peter Convey, Marco A. Molina-Montenegro

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Most climate and environmental change models predict significant increases in temperature and precipitation by the end of the 21st Century, for which the current functional output of certain symbioses may also be altered. In this context we address the following questions: 1) How the expected changes in abiotic factors (temperature, and water) differentially affect the ecophysiological performance of the plant Colobanthus quitensis? and 2) Will this environmental change indirectly affect C. quitensis photochemical performance and biomass accumulation by modifying its association with fungal endophytes? Plants of C. quitensis from King George Island in the South Shetland archipelago (62°09' S), and Lagotellerie Island in the Antarctic Peninsula (65°53' S) were put under simulated abiotic conditions in growth chambers following predictive models of global climate change (GCC). The indirect effect of GCC on the interaction between C. quitensis and fungal endophytes was assessed in a field experiment carried out in the Antarctica, in which we eliminated endophytes under contemporary conditions and applied experimental watering to simulate increased precipitation input. We measured four proxies of plant performance. First, we found that warming (+W) significantly increased plant performance, however its effect tended to be less than watering (+W) and combined warming and watering (+T°+W). Second, the presence of fungal endophytes improved plant performance, and its effect was significantly decreased under experimental watering. Our results indicate that both biotic and abiotic factors affect ecophysiological performance, and the directions of these influences will change with climate change. Our findings provide valuable information that will help to predict future population spread and evolution through using ecological niche models under different climatic scenarios.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0164844
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2016


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