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J. Mt. Sci. (2015) 12 variation of the size and placement of resource acquiring organs such as leaves are critical to a plant’s adjustments to resource availability (Sattarian et al. 2011). The current interest in plant adjustment to environment results from an urgency to predict species responses to global climate change (Potvin and Tousignant 1996;
Rehfeldt et al. 2001) and from the emerging ideas on the importance of plasticity for understanding trait-mediated species interactions (Callaway et al. 2003; Valldares et al. 2006). Study of plant adjustment to environment is more important in plants with long life span, such as trees, which may experience large changes in climatic conditions during their life time (Rehfeldt et al. 2001;
Valladares et al. 2005).
Altitudinal gradients are among the most powerful ‘natural experiments’ for testing ecological and evolutionary responses of biota to geophysical influences, such as low temperature (Körner 2007). The four primary atmospheric changes associated with altitude are: (i) decreasing total atmospheric pressure and partial pressure of all atmospheric gases; (ii) reduction of atmospheric temperature, with implications for ambient humidity; (iii) increasing radiation under a cloudless sky, both as incoming solar radiation and outgoing night-time thermal radiation; and (iv) a higher fraction of UV-B radiation at any given total solar radiation (Körner 2007).
Altitudinal gradients are particularly relevant in order to study plants phenological responses to temperature since they provide a wide temperature range over very short distances. The distributions of species in mountain regions are typically restricted to relatively narrow and well-delineated altitudinal bands in comparison with often broad and poorly defined latitudinal distributions in the lowlands (Jump et al. 2009). The relationship between altitude and plant morphology is of great interest to plant physiologists, ecologists and palaeobotanists alike. High-altitude species tend to be morphologically and physiologically distinct from closely related species from lower altitudes.
Altitude also has a major effect on leaf morphology and physiology within a species (Hovenden and
Vander Schoor 2003).
Morus alba L. (Moraceae) is a small to medium-sized dioecious, occasionally monoecious, perennial, heterogeneous tree, distributed in tropical, sub-tropical and temperate zones in Asia,