, Volume 72, Issue 4, pp 487-501

An analysis of climate and competition as contributors to decline of red spruce in high elevation Appalachian forests of the Eastern United states

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Long-term growth patterns of red spruce (Picea rubens Sarg.) were analyzed from increment cores collected from over 1000 trees at 48 sites in the eastern United States. Principal objectives were the evaluation of the distribution, timing, and uniqueness of observed patterns of decreasing radial growth during the past 25 years and the examination of stand competition and climate as factors contributing to observed changes.

Our analyses focused on historical records of spruce mortality and approximately 200 years of radial growth data to search for historical precedents for current trends. In this work we have used time series analysis to detect the temporal frequency of significant negative or positive shifts in radial growth rates, an analysis of relationships between a stand competition index and observed changes in growth and mortality, and modeling of past growth-climate relationships to determine whether recent growth changes could be predicted based on climate.

Collectively, these analyses indicate that the observed growth decreases of surviving red spruce trees at northeastern sites with high mortality have been anomalous during the past 20 to 25 years with respect to both historical annual growth patterns and past relationships to climate or stand development at these sites. In general, reductions in radial increment that have also been noted at southern high elevation sites but not at low elevations occurred 5 to 10 years later than at northern sites and represent less substantive departures from growth trends predicted by linear climate models.

These results suggest that regional and not local stresses have triggered the observed decline in radial growth of red spruce at these sites. While climatic change may have contributed to observed changes, the degree of radial growth suppression observed is greater than would be expected based on past growth-climate relationships. This unique relationship of growth to climate suggests the influences of either recent, unique combinations of climatic stresses or the possibly interactive intervention of other regional-scale stresses, such as atmospheric pollution.

Although the research described in this article has been funded wholly or in part by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through Interagency Agreement Number DW 89931334-01-0 with the U.S. Department of Energy, it has not been subjected to EPA review and therefore does not necessarily reflect the views of EPA, and no official endorsement should be inferred