Topography influences the distribution of autumn frost damage on trees in a Mediterranean-type Eucalyptus forest
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Extreme temperatures are causing forest dieback in a Mediterranean-type forest. Topography and cold-air pooling explain the geographic distribution of frost dieback in susceptible tree species.
Alterations to the frequency and intensity of extreme temperatures, predicted with climate change, pose a threat to the health of many forests. Some Mediterranean climate regions are experiencing higher temperature variability, including more extreme low and high temperature events. Following one such low-temperature event in autumn 2012, we conducted landscape- and site-level studies to examine the impact of frost on trees and the interaction between topography, temperature, and dieback in a forest ecosystem in the Mediterranean climate region of southwest Australia. Canopy damage was widespread across the survey area and occurred in distinct patches, with sizes ranging between 4.1 and 2,518.0 ha. In affected forest, Eucalyptus marginata and Corymbia calophylla experienced nearly complete crown dieback, while E. patens and E. wandoo were undamaged. Canopy damage was found more frequently in valleys and lower to mid-slope positions, and site-level studies confirmed that crown dieback generally increased with decreasing elevation. Low temperatures were strongly correlated with elevation along damaged forest transects and cold-air pooling explained the pattern of forest damage. By regressing temperatures from damaged sites against those collected from the nearest meteorological station, projected minimum air temperatures ranged from −0.1 to −2.7 °C at valley bottom when the dieback occurred. Insufficient tissue hardening is suspected to have predisposed trees to this autumn frost. The interaction between shifting temperature regimes with climate change and frost damage is discussed. With continued increases in temperature variability, we can expect to see more temperature-driven disturbance events and associated reductions in forest health.
KeywordsClimate change Temperature Dieback Frost pocket Jarrah Marri
Author contribution statement
G. Matusick served as the primary researcher on the project by collecting much of the field and aerial survey data, conducting data analysis, and preparing the manuscript for submission. K. Ruthrof made significant contributions to data collection and manuscript preparation. N. Brouwers contributed by analysing aerial survey data and manuscript preparation. G. Hardy was instrumental in attracting research funding for the project and made significant contributions to data collection and manuscript preparation.
The research was conducted with financial support of the Western Australian State Centre of Excellence for Climate Change Woodland and Forest Health, which is a partnership between private industry, community groups, Universities, and the Government of Western Australia.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
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