Repository logo

Biogeographic implication of temperature-induced plant cell wall lignification.

Published version

Repository DOI

Change log


More than 200 years after von Humboldt's pioneering work on the treeline, our understanding of the cold distribution limit of upright plant growth is still incomplete. Here, we use wood anatomical techniques to estimate the degree of stem cell wall lignification in 1770 plant species from six continents. Contrary to the frequent belief that small plants are less lignified, we show that cell wall lignification in 'woody' herbs varies considerably. Although trees and shrubs always exhibit lignified cell walls in their upright stems, small plants above the treeline may contain less lignin. Our findings suggest that extremely cold growing season temperatures can reduce the ability of plants to lignify their secondary cell walls. Corroborating experimental and observational evidence, this study proposes to revisit existing theories about the thermal distribution limit of upright plant growth and to consider biochemical and biomechanical factors for explaining the global treeline position.


Acknowledgements: We are thankful to the late Fritz Hans Schweingruber and everyone else who contributed to the collection and preparation of plant stem samples. Holger Gärtner provided critical discussion during the project’s initial phase, Loïc Schneider and Patrick Züst contributed to the analysis of our wood anatomical thin sections, Francesco Muschitiello gave statistical advice, and Christian Körner, Andrew Liebhold, Jonathan Spencer and several anonymous referees commented on earlier versions of the manuscript. A.C. received funding from the Fritz and Elisabeth Schweingruber Foundation, U.B. received funding from the SustES project—Adaptation strategies for sustainable ecosystem services and food security under adverse environmental conditions (CZ.02.1.01/0.0/0.0/16_019/0000797), and the ERC Advanced project MonoStar (AdG 882727). J.D. was supported by the Czech Science Foundation (GACR 21-26883 S) and the MSMT INTER-EXCELLENCE project (LTAUSA18007).


Cell Membrane, Cell Wall, Lignin, Plants, Temperature, Wood

Journal Title

Commun Biol

Conference Name

Journal ISSN


Volume Title


Springer Science and Business Media LLC