Ontogenetic niche shifts in three Vaccinium species on a sub-alpine mountain side

Background: Climate warming in arctic and alpine regions is expected to result in the altitudinal migration of plant species, but current predictions neglect differences between species' regeneration niche and established niche. Aims: To examine potential recruitment of Vaccinium myrtillus, V. uliginosum and V. vitis-idaea on a mountain slope in northern Sweden in relation to current adult occurrence. Methods: We combined a seed-sowing experiment in seven community types with adult occurrence observations and species distribution mapping. Results: Emergence of V. myrtillus and V. vitis-idaea seedlings was significantly related to community type, while V. uliginosum was indifferent, but exhibited the highest average emergence. Adult occurrence was related to community, and ontogenetic niche shifts were observed for all three study species. V. myrtillus was shown to have the highest potential recruitment in habitats at altitudes above its current populations. Conclusions: The potential for migration exists, but incongruence between regenerative and established niches presents a challenge for colonisers, as well as for plant migration modelling.