skip to main content


The NSF Public Access Repository (NSF-PAR) system and access will be unavailable from 11:00 PM ET on Thursday, June 13 until 2:00 AM ET on Friday, June 14 due to maintenance. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Title: Tree density influences ecohydrological drivers of plant–water relations in a larch boreal forest in Siberia

Transpiration and stomatal conductance in deciduous needleleaf boreal forests of northern Siberia can be highly sensitive to water stress, permafrost thaw, and atmospheric dryness. Additionally, north‐eastern Siberian boreal forests are fire‐driven, and larch (Larixspp.) are the sole tree species. We examined differences in tree water use, stand characteristics, and stomatal responses to environmental drivers between high and low tree density stands that burned 76 years ago in north‐eastern Siberia. Our results provide process‐level insight to climate feedbacks related to boreal forest productivity, water cycles, and permafrost across Arctic regions. The high density stand had shallower permafrost thaw depths and deeper moss layers than the low density stand. Rooting depths and shallow root biomass were similar between stands. Daily transpiration was higher on average in the high‐density stand 0.12 L m−2 day−1(SE: 0.004) compared with the low density stand 0.10 L m−2 day−1(SE: 0.001) throughout the abnormally wet summer of 2016. Transpiration rates tended to be similar at both stands during the dry period in 2017 in both stands of 0.10 L m−2 day−1(SE: 0.002). The timing of precipitation impacted stomatal responses to environmental drivers, and the high density stand was more dependent on antecedent precipitation that occurred over longer periods in the past compared with the low density stand. Post‐fire tree density differences in plant–water relations may lead to different trajectories in plant mortality, water stress, and ecosystem water cycles across Siberian landscapes.

more » « less
Award ID(s):
1708322 1417700
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
Wiley Blackwell (John Wiley & Sons)
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Larix cajanderiforests, which occupy vast regions of Siberia, grow atop and protect carbon‐rich permafrost. Regeneration of these forests has important implications for long‐term feedbacks into the climate system and their regeneration is strongest following stand‐replacing fires. The goal of this project was to assess sources of regeneration limitation inL. cajanderiforests in northeastern Siberia. We focused on (1) regeneration potential of stands varying in tree density and (2) analyzing seedling establishment patterns in relationship to microsite conditions (safe sites) in the landscape. Seed sources were assessed through cone counts and stand surveys in the summers of 2017 and 2018 in 17 matureL. cajanderistands.L. cajanderirecruitment patterns in relationship to safe site availability were assessed in 15 areas, spanning approximately 800 km2along the northern portion of the Kolyma River (69.5477° N, 161.3641° E). Density of trees in a stand was negatively related to the number of cones that the average tree produced and stands of moderate density produced more cones per area than either high‐ or low‐density stands.L. cajanderiseedling establishment was facilitated by safe sites in the landscape. We discovered strong evidence that safe sites are considerably more important for seedling establishment in lowland sites than upland areas. The biological explanation for this pattern is presently unknown; however, we hypothesize this pattern is driven by persistently wet (marshy) soils in some lowland sites as a limiter of seedling establishment. Overall, these data suggest the potential for complex linkages between forest density, propagule availability, fire, safe sight colonization, and seedling establishment that may regulate long‐term dynamics in the understudiedL. cajanderiforests of the Siberian Arctic.

    more » « less
  2. null (Ed.)
    Abstract. Permafrost soils store between 1330 and 1580 Pg carbon (C), which is 3 times the amount of C in global vegetation, almost twice the amount of C in the atmosphere, and half of the global soil organic C pool. Despite the massive amount of C in permafrost, estimates of soil C storage in the high-latitude permafrost region are highly uncertain, primarily due to undersampling at all spatial scales; circumpolar soil C estimates lack sufficient continental spatial diversity, regional intensity, and replication at the field-site level. Siberian forests are particularly undersampled, yet the larch forests that dominate this region may store more than twice as much soil C as all other boreal forest types in the continuous permafrost zone combined. Here we present above- and belowground C stocks from 20 sites representing a gradient of stand age and structure in a larch watershed of the Kolyma River, near Chersky, Sakha Republic, Russia. We found that the majority of C stored in the top 1 m of the watershed was stored belowground (92 %), with 19 % in the top 10 cm of soil and 40 % in the top 30 cm. Carbon was more variable in surface soils (10 cm; coefficient of variation (CV)  =  0.35 between stands) than in the top 30 cm (CV  =  0.14) or soil profile to 1 m (CV  =  0.20). Combined active-layer and deep frozen deposits (surface – 15 m) contained 205 kg C m−2 (yedoma, non-ice wedge) and 331 kg C m−2 (alas), which, even when accounting for landscape-level ice content, is an order of magnitude more C than that stored in the top meter of soil and 2 orders of magnitude more C than in aboveground biomass. Aboveground biomass was composed of primarily larch (53 %) but also included understory vegetation (30 %), woody debris (11 %) and snag (6 %) biomass. While aboveground biomass contained relatively little (8 %) of the C stocks in the watershed, aboveground processes were linked to thaw depth and belowground C storage. Thaw depth was negatively related to stand age, and soil C density (top 10 cm) was positively related to soil moisture and negatively related to moss and lichen cover. These results suggest that, as the climate warms, changes in stand age and structure may be as important as direct climate effects on belowground environmental conditions and permafrost C vulnerability. 
    more » « less
  3. Wildfire activity is increasing in boreal forests as climate warms and dries, increasing risks to rural and urban communities. In black spruce forests of Interior Alaska, fuel reduction treatments are used to create a defensible space for fire suppression and slow fire spread. These treatments introduce novel disturbance characteristics, making longer-term outcomes on ecosystem structure and wildfire risk reduction uncertain. We remeasured a network of sites where fuels were reduced through hand thinning or mechanical shearblading in Interior Alaska to assess how successional trajectories of tree dominance, understory composition, and permafrost change over ∼ 20 years after treatment. We also assessed if these fuel reduction treatments reduce modeled surface rate of fire spread (ROS), flame length, and fireline intensity relative to an untreated black spruce stand, and if surface fire behavior changes over time. In thinned areas, soil organic layer (SOL) disturbance promoted tree seedling recruitment but did not change over time. In shearbladed sites, by contrast, both conifer and broad-leaved deciduous seedling density increased over time and deciduous seedlings were 20 times more abundant than spruce. Thaw depth increased over time in both treatments and was greatest in shearbladed sites with a thin SOL. Understory composition was not altered by thinning but in shearbladed treatments shifted from forbs and horsetail to tall deciduous shrubs and grasses over time. Modeled surface fire behavior was constant in shearbladed sites. This finding is inconsistent with expert opinion, highlighting the need for additional fuels-specific data to capture the changing vegetation structure. Treatment effectiveness at reducing modeled surface ROS, flame length, and fireline intensity depended on the fuel model used for an untreated black spruce stand, pointing to uncertainties about the efficacy of these treatments at mitigating surface fire behavior. Overall, we show that fuel reduction treatments can promote low flammability, deciduous tree dominated successional trajectories, and that shearblading has strong effects on understory composition and permafrost degradation that persist for nearly two decades after disturbance. Such factors need to be considered to enhance the design, management, and predictions of fire behavior in these treatments. 
    more » « less
  4. Abstract Aim

    Wildfire is an essential disturbance agent that creates burn mosaics, or a patchwork of burned and unburned areas across the landscape. Unburned patches, fire refugia, serve as carbon sinks and seed sources for forest regeneration in burned areas. In the Cajander larch (Larix cajanderiMayr.) forests of north‐eastern Siberia, an unprecedented wildfire season in 2020 and little documentation of landscape patch dynamics have resulted in research gaps about the characteristics of fire refugia in northern latitude forests, which are warming faster than other global forest ecosystems. We aim to characterize the 2010 distribution of fire refugia for these forest ecosystems and evaluate their topographic drivers.


    North‐eastern Siberia across the North‐east Siberian Taiga and the Cherskii‐Kolyma Mountain Tundra ecozones.

    Time period


    Major taxa studied

    Cajander larch.


    We used Landsat imagery to define burned and unburned patches, and the Arctic digital elevation model to calculate topographic variables. We characterized the size and density of fire refugia. We sampled individual pixels (n = 80,000) from an image stack that included a binary burned/unburned, elevation, slope, aspect, topographic position index, ruggedness, and tree cover from 2001 to 2020. We evaluated the topographic drivers of fire refugia with boosted regression trees.


    We found no substantial difference in fire refugia size and density across the region. The fire refugia size averaged 7.2 ha (0.09–150,439 ha). The majority of interior burned patches exceed the potential wind dispersal distance from fire refugia. Topographic position index and terrain steepness were important predictors of fire refugia.

    Main conclusions

    Unprecedented wildfires in 2020 did not impact fire refugia formation. Fire refugia are strongly controlled by topographic positions such as uplands and lowlands that influence microsite hydrological conditions. Fire refugia contribute to postfire landscape heterogeneity that preserves ecosystem functions, seed sources, habitat, and carbon sinks.

    more » « less
  5. null (Ed.)
    Eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana L., redcedar) encroachment is transitioning the oak-dominated Cross-Timbers of the southern Great Plain of the USA into mixed-species forests. However, it remains unknown how the re-assemblage of tree species in a semiarid to sub-humid climate affects species-specific water use and competition, and ultimately the ecosystem-level water budget. We selected three sites representative of oak, redcedar, and oak and redcedar mixed stands with a similar total basal area (BA) in a Cross-Timbers forest near Stillwater, Oklahoma. Sap flow sensors were installed in a subset of trees in each stand representing the distribution of diameter at breast height (DBH). Sap flow of each selected tree was continuously monitored over a period of 20 months, encompassing two growing seasons between May 2017 and December 2018. Results showed that the mean sap flow density (Sd) of redcedar was usually higher than post oaks (Quercus stellata Wangenh.). A structural equation model showed a significant correlation between Sd and shallow soil moisture for redcedar but not for post oak. At the stand level, the annual water use of the mixed species stand was greater than the redcedar or oak stand of similar total BA. The transition of oak-dominated Cross-Timbers to redcedar and oak mixed forest will increase stand-level transpiration, potentially reducing the water available for runoff or recharge to groundwater. 
    more » « less