Warming and provenance limit tree recruitment across and beyond the elevation range of subalpine forest.
Using field experiments in the Rocky Mountains, scientists tested the sensitivity of emerging tree seedlings to artificial warming and watering at three locations along a mountainside to understand whether trees will be able to migrate upward in elevation as the climate changes.
Most vegetation models assume that forest trees will track their environmental “niche” as climate warms, including upslope to higher elevations. There is little understanding, however, of climate constraints on seedlings, which are the future of the forest. The unexpected results of intensive field experiments in Colorado indicate that warming reduces the odds of seedlings establishing at and above their current upper limits, as well as in the forest, or provides no net benefit. Seeds sourced from higher-elevation trees also performed relatively poorly, suggesting that past genetic adaptation to local conditions may hinder upslope tree advances, a finding counter to current theory.
Climate warming is expected to promote upslope shifts in forests. However, common gardens sown with seeds collected from two different elevations and subjected to climate manipulations using infrared heaters and manual watering indicate that warming and local genotype may constrain tree seedling recruitment above current treeline. Negative effects of warming in forest, treeline, and alpine sites were partly offset by watering, suggesting growing season moisture may limit establishment of future subalpine forests. Greater climate sensitivity of Engelmann spruce compared with limber pine portends potential contraction in the elevational range of Engelmann spruce and changes in the composition of high-elevation Rocky Mountain forests. The greater availability of poorer-quality seed at the upper forest edge could act to further slow upslope shifts.
BER Program Manager
Daniel Stover and Jared DeForest
Lara M. Kueppers, Research Scientist
University of California, Merced, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org (510-486-5813)
This research was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research (DE-FG02-07ER64457).
Kueppers, L. M., et al. “Warming and provenance limit tree recruitment across and beyond the elevation range of subalpine forest.” Global Change Biology 23(6), 2383–2395 (2016). [DOI:10.1111/gcb.13561]
Alpine-Treeline Warming Experiment website
SC-33.1 Earth and Environmental Sciences Division, BER
BER supports basic research and scientific user facilities to advance DOE missions in energy and environment. More about BER
Mar 23, 2021
Molecular Connections from Plants to Fungi to Ants
Lipids transfer energy and serve as an inter-kingdom communication tool in leaf-cutter ants&rsqu [more...]
Mar 19, 2021
Microbes Use Ancient Metabolism to Cycle Phosphorus
Microbial cycling of phosphorus through reduction-oxidation reactions is older and more widespre [more...]
Feb 22, 2021
Warming Soil Means Stronger Microbe Networks
Soil warming leads to more complex, larger, and more connected networks of microbes in those soi [more...]
Jan 27, 2021
Labeling the Thale Cress Metabolites
New data pipeline identifies metabolites following heavy isotope labeling.
Aug 31, 2020
Novel Bacterial Clade Reveals Origin of Form I Rubisco
List all highlights (possible long download time)