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  1. Abstract

    Climate change‐triggered forest die‐off is an increasing threat to global forests and carbon sequestration but remains extremely challenging to predict. Tree growth resilience metrics have been proposed as measurable proxies of tree susceptibility to mortality. However, it remains unclear whether tree growth resilience can improve predictions of stand‐level mortality. Here, we use an extensive tree‐ring dataset collected at ~3000 permanent forest inventory plots, spanning 13 dominant species across the US Mountain West, where forests have experienced strong drought and extensive die‐off has been observed in the past two decades, to test the hypothesis that tree growth resilience to drought can explain and improve predictions of observed stand‐level mortality. We found substantial increases in growth variability and temporal autocorrelation as well declining drought resistance and resilience for a number of species over the second half of the 20th century. Declining resilience and low tree growth were strongly associated with cross‐ and within‐species patterns of mortality. Resilience metrics had similar explicative power compared to climate and stand structure, but the covariance structure among predictors implied that the effect of tree resilience on mortality could partially be explained by stand and climate variables. We conclude that tree growth resilience offers highly valuablemore »insights on tree physiology by integrating the effect of stressors on forest mortality but may have only moderate potential to improve large‐scale projections of forest die‐off under climate change.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available June 21, 2024
  2. Abstract Tree-ring time series provide long-term, annually resolved information on the growth of trees. When sampled in a systematic context, tree-ring data can be scaled to estimate the forest carbon capture and storage of landscapes, biomes, and—ultimately—the globe. A systematic effort to sample tree rings in national forest inventories would yield unprecedented temporal and spatial resolution of forest carbon dynamics and help resolve key scientific uncertainties, which we highlight in terms of evidence for forest greening (enhanced growth) versus browning (reduced growth, increased mortality). We describe jump-starting a tree-ring collection across the continent of North America, given the commitments of Canada, the United States, and Mexico to visit forest inventory plots, along with existing legacy collections. Failing to do so would be a missed opportunity to help chart an evidence-based path toward meeting national commitments to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions, urgently needed for climate stabilization and repair.
  3. Abstract

    Climatic conditions exert an important influence on wildfire activity in the western United States; however, Indigenous farming activity may have also shaped the local fire regimes for millennia. The Fish Lake Plateau is located on the Great Basin–Colorado Plateau boundary, the only region in western North America where maize farming was adopted then suddenly abandoned. Here we integrate sedimentary archives, tree rings, and archeological data to reconstruct the past 1200 years of fire, climate, and human activity. We identify a period of high fire activity during the apex of prehistoric farming between 900 and 1400 CE, and suggest that farming likely obscured the role of climate on the fire regime through the use of frequent low-severity burning. Climatic conditions again became the dominant driver of wildfire when prehistoric populations abandoned farming around 1400 CE. We conclude that Indigenous populations shaped high-elevation mixed-conifer fire regimes on the Fish Lake Plateau through land-use practices.

  4. Abstract

    Robust ecological forecasting of tree growth under future climate conditions is critical to anticipate future forest carbon storage and flux. Here, we apply three ingredients of ecological forecasting that are key to improving forecast skill: data fusion, confronting model predictions with new data, and partitioning forecast uncertainty. Specifically, we present the first fusion of tree‐ring and forest inventory data within a Bayesian state‐space model at a multi‐site, regional scale, focusing onPinus ponderosavar.brachypterain the southwestern US. Leveraging the complementarity of these two data sources, we parsed the ecological complexity of tree growth into the effects of climate, tree size, stand density, site quality, and their interactions, and quantified uncertainties associated with these effects. New measurements of trees, an ongoing process in forest inventories, were used to confront forecasts of tree diameter with observations, and evaluate alternative tree growth models. We forecasted tree diameter and increment in response to an ensemble of climate change projections, and separated forecast uncertainty into four different causes: initial conditions, parameters, climate drivers, and process error. We found a strong negative effect of fall–spring maximum temperature, and a positive effect of water‐year precipitation on tree growth. Furthermore, tree vulnerability to climate stress increases with greater competition,more »with tree size, and at poor sites. Under future climate scenarios, we forecast increment declines of 22%–117%, while the combined effect of climate and size‐related trends results in a 56%–91% decline. Partitioning of forecast uncertainty showed that diameter forecast uncertainty is primarily caused by parameter and initial conditions uncertainty, but increment forecast uncertainty is mostly caused by process error and climate driver uncertainty. This fusion of tree‐ring and forest inventory data lays the foundation for robust ecological forecasting of aboveground biomass and carbon accounting at tree, plot, and regional scales, including iterative improvement of model skill.

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  5. Abstract

    Estimates of the percentage of species “committed to extinction” by climate change range from 15% to 37%. The question is whether factors other than climate need to be included in models predicting species’ range change. We created demographic range models that include climate vs. climate‐plus‐competition, evaluating their influence on the geographic distribution ofPinus edulis, a pine endemic to the semiarid southwestern U.S. Analyses of data on 23,426 trees in 1941 forest inventory plots support the inclusion of competition in range models. However, climate and competition together only partially explain this species’ distribution. Instead, the evidence suggests that climate affects other range‐limiting processes, including landscape‐scale, spatial processes such as disturbances and antagonistic biotic interactions. Complex effects of climate on species distributions—through indirect effects, interactions, and feedbacks—are likely to cause sudden changes in abundance and distribution that are not predictable from a climate‐only perspective.