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Ecology. 2011 Jun;92(6):1323-31.

Climate determines upper, but not lower, altitudinal range limits of Pacific Northwest conifers.

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Biology Department, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA.


Does climate determine species' ranges? Rapid rates of anthropogenic warming make this classic ecological question especially relevant. We ask whether climate controls range limits by quantifying relationships between climatic variables (precipitation, temperature) and tree growth across the altitudinal ranges of six Pacific Northwestern conifers on Mt. Rainier, Washington, USA. Results for three species (Abies amabilis, Callitropsis nootkatensis, Tsuga mertensiana) whose upper limits occur at treeline (> 1600 m) imply climatic controls on upper range limits, with low growth in cold and high snowpack years. Annual growth was synchronized among individuals at upper limits for these high-elevation species, further suggesting that stand-level effects such as climate constrain growth more strongly than local processes. By contrast, at lower limits climatic effects on growth were weak for these high-elevation species. Growth-climate relationships for three low-elevation species (Pseudotsuga menziesii, Thuja plicata, Tsuga heterophylla) were not consistent with expectations of climatic controls on upper limits, which are located within closed-canopy forest (< 1200 m). Annual growth of these species was poorly synchronized among individuals. Our results suggest that climate controls altitudinal range limits at treeline, while local drivers (perhaps biotic interactions) influence growth in closed-canopy forests. Climate-change-induced range shifts in closed-canopy forests will therefore be difficult to predict accurately.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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