Seasonal drivers of understorey temperature buffering in temperate deciduous forests across Europe

Forest understorey microclimates are often buffered against extreme heat or cold, with important implications for the organisms living in these environments. We quantified seasonal effects of understorey microclimate predictors describing canopy structure, canopy composition and topography (i.e., local factors) and the forest patch size and distance to the coast (i.e., landscape factors).

The local canopy cover was a strong nonlinear driver of the maximum temperature offset during summer, and we found increased cooling beneath tree species that cast the deepest shade. Seasonal offsets of minimum temperature were mainly regulated by landscape and topographic features, such as the distance to the coast and topographic position.

Forest organisms experience less severe temperature extremes than suggested by currently available macroclimate data; therefore, climate–species relationships and the responses of species to anthropogenic global warming cannot be modelled accurately in forests using macroclimate data alone. Changes in canopy cover and composition will strongly modulate the warming of maximum temperatures in forest understories, with important implications for understanding the responses of forest biodiversity and functioning to the combined threats of land‐use change and climate change. Our predictive models are generally applicable across lowland temperate deciduous forests, providing ecologically important microclimate data for forest understories.

Zellweger (2019) Global Ecology and Biogeography

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