Caroline measuring Lathyrus vernus (spring pea) which was trans-planted to different forest microclimates at its northern range margin. Photo: Malin Borg.

A warmer climate will shift species distributional range margins poleward, but near-ground microclimates may modify these shifts. Cold-adapted northern species at their rear edge may survive locally in microrefugia with a colder microclimate, and warm-adapted southern species at their leading edge may colonize stepping stone habitats with a warmer microclimate. However, we do not always know if species ranges are limited by climate and which role microclimate variation plays in modifying range margins. This is especially true for lowland forests, where forest structure and composition have relatively large influences on near-ground microclimates.

In this thesis, I explored patterns and drivers of forest microclimate at the southern margin of the boreal zone in central Sweden, where many northern and southern species meet. First, I measured, modelled and mapped near-ground temperatures across ca. 20 000 km2 of forested land (Paper I). Second, I tested if cold and warm microclimates favour northern and southern understory species, respectively. To answer this, I investigated the occurrence and performance patterns of understory vascular plants, bryophytes and lichens across microclimate gradients at the species’ northern or
southern range margins (Paper II-IV). I performed both correlational analyses on natural populations and experimental testing with transplanted populations. Third, I derived recommendations and tools for biodiversity conservation and forest management (Paper I-IV).

Forests create a characteristic microclimate with often buffered temperature extremes. Microclimate is influenced by features of the terrain, the forest and vicinity to water bodies. Photo: Caroline Greiser.

I found high spatial and temporal variation of forest microclimate, which was in the summer mainly linked to differences in forest density and in the cold season to terrain effects (Paper I). Cold and warm microclimates were occupied by natural edge populations of northern and southern species, respectively (Paper II and IV). However, in the transplant experiments with removed competition other factors were more important for the species performance. The southern herb appeared to cope well with the range of microclimate at its current northern range margin and instead seems to be limited by soil
and light in northern conifer-dominated forests (Paper IV). The northern transplanted bryophytes and lichens showed no or a positive response to warmer temperature, but also to higher moisture, to more conifers in the overstory and to less gastropod grazing (Paper III). The results indicate that competition with southern species, herbivory, leaf litter and water scarcity might be more important than temperature as direct limiting factors at the species’ current southern range margin. To conclude, microclimate influences the occurrence and performance of range edge populations, but it likely does so
indirectly via effects on water availability and biotic interactions.

Forest management heavily modifies near-ground temperature and humidity and hence likely impacts the climatedriven range shifts of understory species. I call for considering these effects in conservation and management actions, e.g. by protecting valuable microclimates, moving from clear-cutting to selective logging, reducing forest fragmentation and drainage and favouring either broad-leaved or coniferous trees in the overstory - depending on the local conservation target (Paper I-IV). Climate-change induced biodiversity loss may thus be slowed down by responsible forest management that provides stepping stone habitats for advancing southern species as well as microrefugia for retreating northern species.