Individual white spruce (Picea glauca (Moench) Voss) growth limitations at treelines in Alaska

  • White spruce (Picea glauca (Moench) Voss) is one of the most common conifers in Alaska and various treelines mark the species distribution range. Because treelines positions are driven by climate and because climate change is estimated to be strongest in northern latitudes, treeline shifts appear likely. However, species range shifts depend on various species parameters, probably most importantly on phenotypic plasticity, genetic adaptation and dispersal. Due to their long generation cycles and their immobility, trees evolved to endure a wide variety of climatic conditions. In most locations, interannual climate variability is larger than the expected climate change until 2100. Thus treeline position is typically thought of as the integrated effect of multiple years and to lag behind gradual climate change by several decades. Past dendrochronological studies revealed that growth of white spruce in Alaska can be limited by several climatic variables, in particular water stress and low temperatures. Depending on how the intensity of climate warming, this could result in a leading range edge at treelines limited by low temperatures and trailing treelines where soil moisture is or becomes most limiting. Climate-growth correlations are the dendrochronological version of reaction norms and describe the relationship between an environmental variable and traits like tree-ring parameters (e.g. ring width, wood density, wood anatomy). These correlations can be used to explore potential effects of climate change on a target species. However, it is known that individuals differ with respect to multiple variables like size, age, microsite conditions, competition status or their genome. Such individual differences could be important because they can modulate climate-growth relationships and consequently also range shifts and growth trends. Removing individual differences by averaging tree-ring parameters of many individuals into site chronologies could be an oversimplification that might bias estimates of future white spruce performance. Population dynamics that emerge from the interactions of individuals (e.g. competition) and the range of reactions to the same environmental drivers can only be studied via individual tree analyses. Consequently, this thesis focuses on factors that might alter individual white spruce’ climate sensitivity and methods to assess such effects. In particular, the research articles included explore three topics: 1. First, clones were identified via microsatellites and high-frequency climate signals of clones were compared to that of non-clonal individuals. Clonal and non-clonal individuals showed similar high-frequency climate signals which allows to use clonal and non-clonal individuals to construct mean site chronologies. However, clones were more frequently found under the harsher environmental conditions at the treelines which could be of interest for the species survival strategy at alpine treelines and is further explored in the associated RESPONSE project A5 by David Würth. 2. In the second article, methods for the exploration and visualization of individual-tree differences in climate sensitivity are described. These methods represent a toolbox to explore causes for the variety of different climate sensitivities found in individual trees at the same site. Though, overlaying gradients of multiple factors like temperature, tree density and/or tree height can make it difficult to attribute a single cause to the range of reaction norms (climate growth correlations). 3. Lastly, the third article attempts to disentangle the effect of age and size on climate-growth correlations. Multiple past studies found that trees of different Ages responded differently to climatic drivers. In contrast, other studies found that trees do not age like many other organisms. Age and size of a trees are roughly correlated, though there are large differences in the growth rate of trees, which can lead to smaller trees that are older than taller trees. Consequently, age is an imperfect Proxy for size and in contrast to age, size has been shown to affect wood anatomy and thus tree physiology. The article compares two tree-age methods and one tree-size method based on cumulative ring width. In line with previous research on aging and Wood anatomy, tree size appeared to be the best predictor to explain ontogenetic changes in white spruce’ climate sensitivity. In particular, tallest trees exhibited strongest correlations with water stress in previous year July. In conclusion, this thesis is about factors that can alter climate-growth relationships (reaction norms) of white spruce. The results emphasize that interactions between climate variables and other factors like tree size or competition status are important for estimates of future tree growth and potential treeline shifts. In line with previous studies on white spruce in Alaska, the results of this thesis underline the importance of water stress for white spruce. Individuals that are taller and that have more competitors for water appear to be most susceptible to the potentially drier future climate in Alaska. While tree ring based growth trends estimates of white spruce are difficult to derive due to multiple overlaying low frequency (>10 years) signals, all investigated treeline sites showed highest growth at the treeline edge. This could indicate expanding range edges. However, a potential bottleneck for treeline advances and retreats could be seedling establishment, which should be explored in more detail in the future.
  • Die Arbeit beschäftigt sich mit dendroökologischen Analysen der Weißfichte in Alaska. Insbesondere wird auf Effekte eingegangen, welche zu unterschiedlichen Klimasensitivitäten verschiedener Individuen führen. Beispielsweise wird versucht die Modulation der Klimasensitivität durch Alter und Größe der Bäume zu unterscheiden.

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Author:M.Sc. Mario TrouillierORCiD
Title Additional (German):Individuelle Wachstumslimitierungen der Weißfichte (Picea glauca (Moench) Voss) an Waldgrenzen in Alaska
Referee:Prof. Dr. Martin Wilmking, Prof. Dr. Sven Wagner
Advisor:Prof. Dr. Sven Wagner
Document Type:Doctoral Thesis
Year of Completion:2018
Date of first Publication:2018/12/06
Granting Institution:Universität Greifswald, Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftliche Fakultät
Date of final exam:2018/10/16
Release Date:2018/12/06
Tag:Alaska, climate change, climate sensitivity, climate signal age effects, dendrochronology, dendroecology, forest ecology, tree size, white spruce
GND Keyword:Alaska, Baumgrenze, Dendrochronologie, Klimawandel, Picea glauca, Waldgrenze, Waldökologie, Weißfichte
Faculties:Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftliche Fakultät / Institut für Botanik und Landschaftsökologie & Botanischer Garten
DDC class:500 Naturwissenschaften und Mathematik / 580 Pflanzen (Botanik)