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Title: Forests on the move: Tracking climate‐related treeline changes in mountains of the northeastern United States
Abstract Aim

Alpine treeline ecotones are influenced by environmental drivers and are anticipated to shift their locations in response to changing climate. Our goal was to determine the extent of recent climate‐induced treeline advance in the northeastern United States, and we hypothesized that treelines have advanced upslope in complex ways depending on treeline structure and environmental conditions.

Location

White Mountain National Forest (New Hampshire) and Baxter State Park (Maine), USA.

Taxon

High‐elevation tree species—Abies balsamea, Picea marianaandBetula cordata.

Methods

We compared current and historical high‐resolution aerial imagery to quantify the advance of treelines over the last four decades, and link treeline changes to treeline form (demography) and environmental drivers. Spatial analyses of the aerial images were coupled with ground surveys of forest vegetation and topographical features to ground‐truth treeline classification and provide information on treeline demography and additional potential drivers of treeline locations. We used multiple linear regression models to examine the importance of both topographic and climatic variables on treeline advance.

Results

Regional treelines have significantly shifted upslope over the past several decades (on average by 3 m/decade). Gradual diffuse treelines (characterized by declining tree density) showed significantly greater upslope shifts (5 m/decade) compared to other treeline forms, suggesting that both climate warming and treeline demography are important correlates of treeline shifts. Topographical features (slope, aspect) as well as climate (accumulated growing degree days, AGDD) explained significant variation in the magnitude of treeline advance (R2 = 0.32).

Main Conclusions

The observed advance of treelines is consistent with the hypothesis that climate warming induces upslope treeline shifts. Overall, our findings suggest that gradual diffuse treelines at high elevations may be indicative of climate warming more than other alpine treeline ecotones and thus they can inform us about past and ongoing climatic changes.

 
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NSF-PAR ID:
10472866
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
Wiley-Blackwell
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Journal of Biogeography
Volume:
50
Issue:
12
ISSN:
0305-0270
Format(s):
Medium: X Size: p. 1993-2007
Size(s):
["p. 1993-2007"]
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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