The relative influences of climate and competition on tree growth along montane ecotones in the Rocky Mountains

Abstract

Distribution shifts of tree species are likely to be highly dependent upon population performance at distribution edges. Understanding the drivers of aspects of performance, such as growth, at distribution edges is thus crucial to accurately predicting responses of tree species to climate change. Here, we use a Bayesian model and sensitivity analysis to partition the effects of climate and crowding, as a metric of competition, on radial growth of three dominant conifer species along montane ecotones in the Rocky Mountains. These ecotones represent upper and lower distribution edges of two species, and span the distribution interior of the third species. Our results indicate a greater influence of climate (i.e., temperature and precipitation) than crowding on radial growth. Competition importance appears to increase towards regions of more favorable growing conditions, and precise responses to crowding and climate vary across species. Overall, our results suggest that climate will likely be the most important determinant of changes in tree growth at distribution edges of these montane conifers in the future.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank Kelly Reilly and Erick Larsen for their assistance in the field, as well as Dan Tinker, Kyle Palmquist, and Dave Bell for thoughtful comments on earlier versions of this manuscript. We also thank three anonymous reviewers whose comments resulted in substantial improvements to this manuscript. We are grateful to the Department of Botany and the Office of Research and Economic Development at the University of Wyoming for publishing support. P. Copenhaver-Parry was supported by a National Science Foundation Fellowship (G-K12 project no. 0841298) during the writing of this manuscript.

Authors contribution statement

P.E.C.P. conceived and designed the study. P.E.C.P. and E. C. collected field data. E. C. completed tree core analysis and P.E.C.P. conducted all statistical analysis. P.E.C.P. and E. C. wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Paige E. Copenhaver-Parry.

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This paper represents solely the work of a graduate student (P.E.C.P.) and an undergraduate student mentee of P.E.C.P. (E. C.). The methods and findings represented herein substantially improve understanding of the importance of biotic and abiotic factors on tree growth and how these factors may affect species distributions. Thus, this study provides a timely contribution to a major question in community ecology, global change ecology and macroecology and offers valuable insight that may improve predictions of species responses to future climate.

Communicated by Tim Seastedt.

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Copenhaver-Parry, P.E., Cannon, E. The relative influences of climate and competition on tree growth along montane ecotones in the Rocky Mountains. Oecologia 182, 13–25 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-016-3565-x

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Keywords

  • Distribution shift
  • Plant performance
  • Distribution edge
  • Bayesian model
  • Sensitivity analysis