, Volume 26, Issue 4, pp 1169–1179 | Cite as

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

  • Lynda D. PriorEmail author
  • Pauline F. Grierson
  • W. Lachlan  McCaw
  • David Y. P. Tng
  • Scott C. Nichols
  • David M. J. S. Bowman
Original Paper


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.


Cupressaceae Dendrochronology Rainfall Sampling bias Soil fertility Temperature Tree growth 



We thank Marj King, Alison O’Donnell, Kim Whitford, Philip Moser, Diane Prior, Sharyn Yelverton, Herman Mouthaan, David Tng, Clancy Bowman, Ian Radford, Richard Fairman, Chris Weston, Kathy Allen, Quan Hua, Mick Cotter, Ian Kealley, Rigel Jensen, Mike Lawes, Helen Crisp, Dave Lindner, Russell Willis and Adrienne Williams for field assistance. We are grateful to the Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Service, Kakadu National Park, NSW State Forests, NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change, Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management, SA Department of Environment and Heritage, WA Department of Environment and Conservation, Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment, Anindilyakwa Land Council, Northern Land Council, Tiwi College, the Arid Recovery Reserve, the Australian Wildlife Conservancy and many private landholders for help with site selection and permission to sample on their land. We also thank Grant Williamson, who prepared the map, and Sam Wood, for comments on the manuscript. This project was funded by CERF Grant B0016193.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lynda D. Prior
    • 1
    Email author
  • Pauline F. Grierson
    • 2
  • W. Lachlan  McCaw
    • 3
  • David Y. P. Tng
    • 1
  • Scott C. Nichols
    • 1
  • David M. J. S. Bowman
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Plant ScienceUniversity of TasmaniaHobartAustralia
  2. 2.Ecosystems Research Group, School of Plant Biology M090The University of Western AustraliaCrawleyAustralia
  3. 3.Science DivisionDepartment of Environment and ConservationManjimupAustralia

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