Interactions of climate and regional landscape physiography on high elevation forest growth

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Kathy Kelsey1, Nichole N Barger1 and Jason Caufield Neff2, (1)University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, United States, (2)University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, CO, United States
Forests of the western United States are in a period of rapid change, due in part to climate driven changes in life history processes of trees such as growth, establishment, and mortality. These changes in forest condition are of particular concern in the American Southwest where climate conditions are projected to become increasingly hot and dry throughout the next century. While lower elevation trees of the American Southwest are already experiencing decreased radial growth in response to moisture stress, the response of high elevation trees to future climate is highly uncertain. Here we use dendro-climatological techniques to explore the climate-mediated changes in radial tree growth over time in the high elevation forests of southwestern Colorado by sampling 450 Engelmann Spruce and 350 Subalpine Fir from 22 sites across varying aspect, elevation, slope and soil type. Our results indicate variable and frequently opposing growth responses of individuals of the same species to climate variables; 52% of Engelmann Spruce sampled (233 individuals) exhibited positive growth responses to warm summer monthly mean temperatures with the remaining 48% exhibiting negative growth response to warm summer temperatures. We found similarly opposing results for growth response to monthly precipitation and vapor pressure deficit. In this presentation we explore the physiological factors responsible for variable climate-growth relationships within these species. Our results suggest a complex response of high elevation forest growth to climate change, and indicate that efforts to constrain future growth in this region will be contingent on both climatic and local physiographic factors.