A Hierarchical Analysis of Tree Growth and Environmental Drivers Across Eastern US Temperate Forests

Monday, 15 December 2014
Joshua Mantooth and Michael Dietze, Boston University, Boston, MA, United States
Improving predictions of how forests in the eastern United States will respond to future global change requires a better understanding of the drivers of variability in tree growth rates. Current inventory data lack the temporal resolution to characterize interannual variability, while existing growth records lack the extent required to assess spatial scales of variability. Therefore, we established a network of forest inventory plots across ten sites across the eastern US, and measured growth in adult trees using increment cores. Sites were chosen to maximize climate space explored, while within sites, plots were spread across primary environmental gradients to explore landscape-level variability in growth. Using the annual growth record available from tree cores, we explored the responses of trees to multiple environmental covariates over multiple spatial and temporal scales. We hypothesized that within and across sites growth rates vary among species, and that intraspecific growth rates increase with temperature along a species' range. We also hypothesized that trees show synchrony in growth responses to landscape-scale climatic changes. Initial analyses of growth increments indicate that across sites, trees with intermediate shade tolerance, e.g. Red Oak (Quercus rubra), tend to have the highest growth rates. At the site level, there is evidence for synchrony in response to large-scale climatic events (e.g. prolonged drought and above average temperatures). However, growth responses to climate at the landscape scale have yet to be detected. Our current analysis utilizes hierarchical Bayesian state-space modeling to focus on growth responses of adult trees to environmental covariates at multiple spatial and temporal scales. This predictive model of tree growth currently incorporates observed effects at the individual, plot, site, and landscape scale. Current analysis using this model shows a potential slowing of growth in the past decade for two sites in the northeastern US (Harvard Forest and Bartlett Experimental Forest), however more work is required to determine the robustness of this trend. Finally, these observations are being incorporated into ecosystem models using the Brown Dog informatics tools and the Predictive Ecosystem Analyzer (PEcAn) data assimilation workflow.