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Tree Physiol. 2006 Jul;26(7):889-98.

Climate warming and the risk of frost damage to boreal forest trees: identification of critical ecophysiological traits.

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  • 1Plant Ecophysiology and Climate Change Group, Plant Biology, Faculty of Biosciences, University of Helsinki, Finland.


According to a hypothesis presented in the mid-1980s, climate warming will, paradoxically, increase the risk of frost damage to trees in the boreal and temperate zones. Dehardening and even growth onset may occur in trees during mild spells in winter and early spring, resulting in damage during subsequent periods of frost. In the present study, ecophysiological traits critical to the occurrence of frost damage in trees in the boreal zone were identified. Diagnostic computer simulations were performed to examine why one simulation model of frost hardiness in an earlier study predicted heavy frost damage as a consequence of climate warming, whereas another closely related model did not. The modeling comparison revealed that the response of ontogenetic development to air temperature during quiescence is a critical factor determining the risk of frost damage. As the response can be readily determined in growth-chamber experiments, the findings of the present study can be used to guide experimental work on the environmental regulation of the annual cycle of frost hardiness in trees.

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