, Volume 174, Issue 3, pp 665-677

Climate sensitivity of reproduction in a mast-seeding boreal conifer across its distributional range from lowland to treeline forests

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Mast-seeding conifers such as Picea glauca exhibit synchronous production of large seed crops over wide areas, suggesting climate factors as possible triggers for episodic high seed production. Rapidly changing climatic conditions may thus alter the tempo and spatial pattern of masting of dominant species with potentially far-reaching ecological consequences. Understanding the future reproductive dynamics of ecosystems including boreal forests, which may be dominated by mast-seeding species, requires identifying the specific cues that drive variation in reproductive output across landscape gradients and among years. Here we used annual data collected at three sites spanning an elevation gradient in interior Alaska, USA between 1986 and 2011 to produce the first quantitative models for climate controls over both seedfall and seed viability in P. glauca, a dominant boreal conifer. We identified positive associations between seedfall and increased summer precipitation and decreased summer warmth in all years except for the year prior to seedfall. Seed viability showed a contrasting response, with positive correlations to summer warmth in all years analyzed except for one, and an especially positive response to warm and wet conditions in the seedfall year. Finally, we found substantial reductions in reproductive potential of P. glauca at high elevation due to significantly reduced seed viability there. Our results indicate that major variation in the reproductive potential of this species may occur in different landscape positions in response to warming, with decreasing reproductive success in areas prone to drought stress contrasted with increasing success in higher elevation areas currently limited by cool summer temperatures.

Communicated by Tim Seastedt.