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Data from: Transgenerational effects of extreme weather: perennial plant offspring show modified germination, growth and stoichiometry

Cite this dataset

Walter, Julia; Harter, David E. V.; Beierkuhnlein, Carl; Jentsch, Anke (2017). Data from: Transgenerational effects of extreme weather: perennial plant offspring show modified germination, growth and stoichiometry [Dataset]. Dryad.


1) Climate change is predicted to increase the frequency and magnitude of extreme climatic events. These changes will directly affect plant individuals and populations and thus modify plant community composition. Little is known, however, about transgenerational effects (i.e. the influence of the parental environment on offspring phenotype and performance beyond the effects of transmitted genes) of climate extremes and community composition. Perennial plants have been particularly neglected. This impedes projections on species adaptations and population dynamics under climate change. 2) Maternal plants of two widespread dwarf-shrub species (Genista tinctoria and Calluna vulgaris) recurrently experienced extreme weather event manipulations each year (drought and heavy rain). To test for transgenerational effects of community composition, C. vulgaris maternal plants were grown in communities differing in the number of neighbouring species. After six years, seeds of maternal plants were collected at least 2 month after the final weather treatments. We assessed transgenerational effects of the extreme events and of altered community composition on germination and monitored the development of offspring over two years. 3) We show that extreme events experienced by maternal plants influence offspring germination and growth beyond the seedling stage. Seeds produced by maternal plants experiencing stress, indicated by increased tissue die-back, germinated earlier in both observed species. We observed differences in leaf stoichiometry and growth rates for G. tinctoria offspring throughout the first year: Offspring from heavy rain-treated mothers showed reduced leaf C:N ratio and higher growth rates. Results further indicate that not only community density, as investigated in prior studies, but also community composition trigger transgenerational effects. 4) Synthesis: Our findings show that variation in the maternal environment not only affects number, but also performance of offspring. Extreme climatic events, terminated before seed set, induce transgenerational effects. Species richness of mother communities can affect the stress level of target species and thereby germination regardless of community density. In contrast to prior studies, which revealed direct effects of chronic stress on plant individuals, this study emphasizes the importance of addressing transgenerational effects of extreme weather events when projecting future ecological responses and adaptation to climate change.

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Central Europe