, Volume 27, Issue 8, pp 1197-1212

Climatic, landform, microtopographic, and overstory canopy controls of tree invasion in a subalpine meadow landscape, Oregon Cascades, USA

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Abstract

Tree invasions have been documented throughout Northern Hemisphere high elevation meadows, as well as globally in many grass and forb-dominated ecosystems. Tree invasions are often associated with large-scale changes in climate or disturbance regimes, but are fundamentally driven by regeneration processes influenced by interactions between climatic, topographic, and biotic factors at multiple spatial scales. The purpose of this research was to quantify spatiotemporal patterns of meadow invasion; and how climate, larger landforms, topography, and overstory trees have interactively influenced tree invasion. We combined airborne Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) characterizations of landforms, topography, and overstory vegetation with historical climate, field measurements of snow depth, tree abundance, and tree ages to reconstruct spatial and temporal patterns of tree invasion over five decades in a subalpine meadow complex in the Oregon Cascade Range, USA. Proportion of meadow occupied by trees increased from 8 % in 1950 to 35 % in 2007. Larger landforms, topography, and tree canopies interactively mediated regional climatic controls of tree invasion by modifying depth and persistence of snow pack, while tree canopies also influenced seed source availability. Landscape context played an important role mediating snow depth and tree invasion; on glacial landforms tree invasion was negatively associated with spring snowfall, but on debris flows tree invasion was not associated with snow fall. The importance of snow, uncertain climate change impacts on snow, and mediation of snow by interacting and context dependent factors in complex mountain terrain poses substantial hurdles for understanding how these ecotones may respond to future climate conditions.