High phenotypic plasticity, but low signals of local adaptation to climate in a large-scale transplant experiment of Picea abies (L.) Karst. in Europe

Research output: Contribution to journalResearch articleContributedpeer-review



The most common tool to predict future changes in species range are species distribution models. These models do, however, often underestimate potential future habitat, as they do not account for phenotypic plasticity and local adaptation, although being the most important processes in the response of tree populations to rapid climate change. Here, we quantify the difference in the predictions of future range for Norway spruce, by (i) deriving a classic, occurrence-based species distribution model (OccurrenceSDM), and (ii) analysing the variation in juvenile tree height and translating this to species occurrence (TraitSDM). Making use of 32 site locations of the most comprehensive European trial series that includes 1,100 provenances of Norway spruce originating from its natural and further beyond from its largely extended, artificial distribution, we fit a universal response function to quantify growth as a function of site and provenance climate. Both the OccurrenceSDM and TraitSDM show a substantial retreat towards the northern latitudes and higher elevations (−55 and −43%, respectively, by the 2080s). However, thanks to the species’ particularly high phenotypic plasticity in juvenile height growth, the decline is delayed. The TraitSDM identifies increasing summer heat paired with decreasing water availability as the main climatic variable that restricts growth, while a prolonged frost-free period enables a longer period of active growth and therefore increasing growth potential within the restricted, remaining area. Clear signals of local adaptation to climatic clines spanning the entire range are barely detectable, as they are disguised by a latitudinal cline. This cline strongly reflects population differentiation for the Baltic domain, but fails to capture the high phenotypic variation associated to the geographic heterogeneity in the Central European mountain ranges paired with the species history of postglacial migration. Still the model is used to provide recommendations of optimal provenance choice for future climate conditions. In essence, assisted migration may not decrease the predicted range decline of Norway spruce, but may help to capitalize on potential opportunities for increased growth associated with warmer climates.


Original languageEnglish
Article number804857
JournalFrontiers in Forests and Global Change
Publication statusPublished - 29 Mar 2022

External IDs

Scopus 85128347266
ORCID /0000-0002-2942-9180/work/142233774
ORCID /0000-0002-5218-6682/work/145699222


Sustainable Development Goals


  • assisted migration, climate change, height growth, local adaptation, phenotypic plasticity, provenance trial, species distribution model, universal response function