The advancing timberline on Mt. Fuji: natural recovery or climate change?
The alpine timberline on Mt. Fuji (central Japan) is at 2,400–2,500 m above sea level. Over a 21-year period (1978–1999), we tracked changes in this vegetation boundary on a transect at a site impacted by the 1707 volcanic eruption. The timberline advanced rapidly upwards during this time period. Dominant tree species at the timberline (Alnus maximowiczii, Salix reinii, and Larix kaempferi) colonized sites that were initially largely free of vegetation at higher altitudes. Seedlings of L. kaempferi were particularly abundant at the border of advancing vegetation. According to tree age, we found that this was the first canopy species in the colonized areas. L. kaempferi is drought resistant, and this probably contributes to its establishment capability in the high-altitude climate. Most seedlings of Abies veitchii invaded patches of herbs and shrubs. These vegetation patches in the upper kampfzone provide important shelter for seedlings of invading tree species. We predict that the upward advance of the alpine timberline is a recovery process following the volcanic eruption, and that climate change may accelerate this advance.