, Volume 26, Issue 4, pp 1169-1179
Date: 18 Feb 2012

Variation in stem radial growth of the Australian conifer, Callitris columellaris, across the world’s driest and least fertile vegetated continent

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Abstract

Climate change could alter the biogeography of many tree species. However, there have been few studies of tree growth across climatic gradients at a continental scale. Callitris columellaris is a widespread conifer that spans many climates and landscape positions across Australia. Our aim was to determine how stem radial growth of C. columellaris varies with tree size and with the biogeographic factors of rainfall, temperature, soil fertility and inter-tree competition. We sampled cores from trees at 85 sites in biomes ranging from tropical savanna to arid desert and temperate forest, and measured widths of the 100 outermost growth rings. We analysed ring width in relation to changes in tree age and diameter, and also evaluated the influence of the biogeographic factors on the width of the ten most recently formed rings. The average width of outermost rings varied only slightly with stem diameter, because the decrease in ring width with age and diameter within trees is offset by an increase with diameter among trees. Our analyses thus explain the weak, inconsistent relationships often observed between stem diameter and growth rate amongst trees. The most important biogeographic factors were the climatic ones: across Australia, ring width increased with both mean annual rainfall and mean annual temperature. These relationships were largely driven by continental scale differences between the tropical and the southern (arid plus temperate) sites, while relationships within climate zones were comparatively weak. Ring width decreased with intense inter-tree competition but showed little correlation with available soil nitrogen or phosphorus.

Communicated by S. Leavitt.