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PLoS One. 2013 Aug 9;8(8):e71559. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0071559. eCollection 2013.

Forest structure, stand composition, and climate-growth response in montane forests of Jiuzhaigou National Nature Reserve, China.

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  • 1Department of Environmental Science and Policy, University of California Davis, Davis, California, USA. mwschwartz@ucdavis.edu

Abstract

Montane forests of western China provide an opportunity to establish baseline studies for climate change. The region is being impacted by climate change, air pollution, and significant human impacts from tourism. We analyzed forest stand structure and climate-growth relationships from Jiuzhaigou National Nature Reserve in northwestern Sichuan province, along the eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau. We conducted a survey to characterize forest stand diversity and structure in plots occurring between 2050 and 3350 m in elevation. We also evaluated seedling and sapling recruitment and tree-ring data from four conifer species to assess: 1) whether the forest appears in transition toward increased hardwood composition; 2) if conifers appear stressed by recent climate change relative to hardwoods; and 3) how growth of four dominant species responds to recent climate. Our study is complicated by clear evidence of 20(th) century timber extraction. Focusing on regions lacking evidence of logging, we found a diverse suite of conifers (Pinus, Abies, Juniperus, Picea, and Larix) strongly dominate the forest overstory. We found population size structures for most conifer tree species to be consistent with self-replacement and not providing evidence of shifting composition toward hardwoods. Climate-growth analyses indicate increased growth with cool temperatures in summer and fall. Warmer temperatures during the growing season could negatively impact conifer growth, indicating possible seasonal climate water deficit as a constraint on growth. In contrast, however, we found little relationship to seasonal precipitation. Projected warming does not yet have a discernible signal on trends in tree growth rates, but slower growth with warmer growing season climates suggests reduced potential future forest growth.

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