Growing season length can control plant size over altitudinal and biogeographic scales, but its effect at the scale of meters is largely unexplored. Within the riparian zone of a northern California river, scarlet monkeyflower, Mimulus cardinalis, grows significantly larger at sites high in the channel as compared to sites low in the channel, and even larger where tributaries meet the main stem of the river. We explored the hypothesis that markedly different growing season length controls this size variation. Due to the very gradual retreat of the water level following winter flooding, emergence time is three months longer for plants growing at tributary confluences than for plants growing at low elevations in the channel. Consistent with the growing season length hypothesis, we found no difference in transplant growth between river and tributary confluence sites in an experiment where we equalized growing season length at these locations. Moreover, a second experiment showed that individuals planted earlier in the year gain a distinct size advantage over those planted later, even though growing conditions are less ideal. These results suggest that emergence time may be a key determinant of plant size structure along rivers, an important result considering forecasted variation in water flows with climate change.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics