Increased Summer Temperatures Reduce the Growth and Regeneration of Larix sibirica in Southern Boreal Forests of Eastern Kazakhstan
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- Dulamsuren, C., Wommelsdorf, T., Zhao, F. et al. Ecosystems (2013) 16: 1536. doi:10.1007/s10021-013-9700-1
The larch forests at the southern limit of the Siberian boreal forest in Central Asia have repeatedly experienced strong recent growth declines attributed to decreasing summer precipitation in the course of climate warming. Here, we present evidence from the southernmost Larix sibirica forests in eastern Kazakhstan that these declines are primarily caused by a decrease in effective moisture due to increasing summer temperatures, despite constant annual, and summer precipitation. Tree-ring chronologies (>800 trees) showed a reduction by 50–80% in mean ring width and an increase in the frequency of missing rings since the 1970s. Climate-response analysis revealed a stronger (negative) effect of summer temperature (in particular of the previous year’s June and July temperature) on radial growth than summer precipitation (positive effect). It is assumed that a rise in the atmospheric vapor pressure deficit, which typically increases with temperature, is negatively affecting tree water status and radial growth, either directly or indirectly through reduced soil moisture. Larch rejuvenation ceased in the 1950s, which is partly explained by increasing topsoil desiccation in a warmer climate and a high drought susceptibility of larch germination, as was demonstrated by a germination experiment with variable soil moisture levels. The lack of regeneration and the reduced annual stem increment suggest that sustainable forest management aiming at timber harvesting is no longer feasible in these southern boreal forests. Progressive climate warming is likely to cause a future northward shift of the southern limit of the boreal forest.