Skip to main content

Advertisement

Log in

Back to the Future: The Responses of Alpine Treelines to Climate Warming are Constrained by the Current Ecotone Structure

  • Published:
Ecosystems Aims and scope Submit manuscript

Abstract

Alpine treeline ecotones are considered early-warning monitors of the effects of climate change on terrestrial ecosystems, but it is still unclear how accurately treeline dynamics may track the expected temperature rises. Site-specific abiotic constraints, such as topography and demographic trends may make treelines less responsive to environmental fluctuations. A better understanding on how local processes modulate treelines’ response to warming is thus required. We developed a model of treeline dynamics based on individual data of growth, mortality and reproduction. Specifically, we modeled growth patterns, mortality rates and reproductive size thresholds as a function of temperature and stand structure to evaluate the influence of climate- and stand-related processes on treeline dynamics. In this study, we analyze the dynamics of four Pyrenean mountain pine treeline sites with contrasting stand structures, and subjected to differing rates of climate warming. Our models indicate that Pyrenean treelines could reach basal areas and reproductive potentials similar to those currently observed in high-elevation subalpine forest by the mid twenty-first century. The fastest paces of treeline densification are forecasted by the late twenty-first century and are associated with higher warming rates. We found a common densification response of Pyrenean treelines to climate warming, but contrasting paces arise due to current size structures. Treelines characterized by a multistratified stand structure and subjected to lower mean annual temperatures were the most responsive to climate warming. In monostratified stands, tree growth was less sensitive to temperature than in multistratified stands and trees reached their reproductive size threshold later. Therefore, our simulations highlight that stand structure is paramount in modulating treeline responsiveness to ongoing climate warming. Synthesis. Treeline densification over the twenty-first century is likely to occur at different rates contingent on current stand structure and its effects on individual-level tree growth responses to warming. Accurate projections of future treeline dynamics must thus incorporate site-specific factors other than climate, specifically those related to stand structure and its influence on tree growth.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 4
Figure 5
Figure 6
Figure 7

Similar content being viewed by others

References

  • Agustí-Panareda A, Thompson R, Livingstone DM. 2000. Reconstructing temperature variations at high elevation lake sites in Europe during the instrumental period. Verhandlungen Internationalen Vereinigung Limnologie 27:479–83.

    Google Scholar 

  • Alftine K, Malanson GP. 2004. Directional positive feedbacks and pattern at an alpine tree line. Journal of Vegetation Science 15:3–12.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ameztegui A, Brotons L, Coll L. 2010. Land-use changes as major drivers of Mountain pine (Pinus uncinata Ram.) expansion in the Pyrenees. Global Ecology and Biogeography 19:632–41.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ameztegui A, Coll L, Brotons L, Ninot JM. 2015. Land-use legacies rather than climate change are driving the recent upward shift of the mountain tree line in the Pyrenees. Global Ecology and Biogeography. doi:10.1111/geb.12407.

    Google Scholar 

  • Barbeito I, Dawes MA, Rixen C, Senn J, Bebi P. 2012. Factors driving mortality and growth at treeline: a 30-year experiment of 92000 conifers. Ecology 93:389–401.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Batllori E, Camarero JJ, Gutiérrez E. 2010. Current regeneration patterns at the tree line in the Pyrenees indicate similar recruitment processes irrespective of the past disturbance regime. Journal of Biogeography 37:1938–50.

    Google Scholar 

  • Batllori E, Camarero JJ, Gutiérrez E. 2012. Climatic drivers of tree growth and recent recruitment at the Pyrenean alpine tree line ecotone. In: Myster RW, Ed. Ecotones Between Forest and Grassland. New York: Springer. p 247–69.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Batllori E, Camarero JJ, Ninot JM, Gutiérrez E. 2009. Seedling recruitment, survival and facilitation in alpine Pinus uncinata tree line ecotones. Implications and potential responses to climate warming. Global Ecology and Biogeography 18:460–72.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Batllori E, Gutiérrez E. 2008. Regional tree line dynamics in response to global change in the Pyrenees. Journal of Ecology 96:1275–88.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bekker MF. 2005. Positive feedback between tree establishment and patterns of subalpine forest advancement, Glacier National Park, Montana, USA. Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research 37:97–107.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bosch O, Gutiérrez E. 1999. La sucesión en los bosques de Pinus uncinata del Pirineo. De los anillos de crecimiento a la historia del bosque. Ecología 13:133–71.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bücher A, Dessens J. 1991. Secular trend of surface temperature at an elevated observatory in the Pyrenees. Journal of Climate 4:859–68.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Burnham KP, Anderson DR. 2002. Model Selection and Multimodel Inference: a Practical Information-Theoretic Approach. New York: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  • Camarero JJ (1999) Growth and regeneration patterns and processes in Pinus uncinata Ram. treeline ecotones in the Pyrenees and an isolated population in the western distribution limit in Spain. PhD dissertation, University of Barcelona, Barcelona.

  • Camarero JJ, Gazol A, Galván JD, Sangüesa-Barreda G, Gutiérrez E. 2015. Disparate effects of global-change drivers on mountain conifer forests: warming-induced growth enhancement in young trees vs. CO2 fertilization in old trees from wet sites. Global Change Biology 21:738–49.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Camarero JJ, Guerrero-Campo J, Gutiérrez E. 1998. Tree-ring growth and structure of Pinus uncinata and Pinus sylvestris in the central Spanish Pyrenees. Arctic, Antarctic and Alpine Research 30:1–10.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Camarero JJ, Gutiérrez E. 2004. Pace and pattern of recent treeline dynamics: response of ecotones to climatic variability in the Spanish Pyrenees. Climatic Change 63:181–200.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Camarero JJ, Gutiérrez E, Fortin M-J. 2000. Spatial pattern of subalpine forest-alpine grassland ecotones in the Spanish Central Pyrenees. Forest Ecology and Management 134:1–16.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Camarero JJ, Gutiérrez E, Fortin M-J, Ribbens E. 2005. Spatial patterns of tree recruitment in a relict population of Pinus uncinata: densification through stratified-diffusion. Journal of Biogeography 32:1979–92.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cantegrel R. 1983. Le pin à crochets pyrénéen: biologie, biochimie, sylviculture. Acta Biologica Montana 2–3:87–331.

    Google Scholar 

  • Carlson BZ, Renaud J, Biron PE, Choler P. 2014. Long-term modeling of the forest–grassland ecotone in the French Alps: implications for land management and conservation. Ecological Applications 24:1213–25.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Chauchard S, Carcaillet C, Guibal F. 2007. Patterns of land-use abandonment control tree-recruitment and forest dynamics in Mediterranean Mountains. Ecosystems 10:936–48.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cuevas JG. 2002. Episodic regeneration at the Nothofagus pumilio alpine timberline in Tierra del Fuego, Chile. Journal of Ecology 90:52–60.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cullen LE, Stewart GH, Duncan RP, Palmer JG. 2001. Disturbance and climate warming influences on New Zealand Nothofagus tree-line population dynamics. Journal of Ecology 89:1061–71.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dufour-Tremblay G, Lévesque E, Boudreau S. 2012. Dynamics at the treeline: differential responses of Picea mariana and Larix laricina to climate change in eastern subarctic Québec. Environmental Research Letters 7:044038.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dullinger S, Dirnböck T, Grabherr G. 2004. Modelling climate change-driven treeline shifts: relative effects of temperature increase, dispersal and invasibility. Journal of Ecology 92:241–52.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fajardo A, McIntire EJB. 2012. Reversal of multicentury tree growth improvements and loss of synchrony at mountain tree lines point to changes in key drivers. Journal of Ecology 100:782–94.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Galván D, Camarero JJ, Gutiérrez E. 2014. Seeing the trees for the forest: drivers of individual growth responses to climate in Pinus uncinata mountain forests. Journal of Ecology 102:1244–57.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • García-Ruiz JM, Lasanta T, Ruiz-Flaño P, Ortigosa L, White S, González C, Martí C. 1996. Land-use changes and sustainable development in mountain areas: a case study in the Spanish Pyrenees. Landscape Ecology 11:267–77.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gehrig-Fasel J, Guisan A, Zimmermann NE. 2007. Tree line shifts in the Swiss Alps: climate change or land abandonment? Journal of Vegetation Science 18:571–82.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gelman A, Hill J. 2007. Data Analysis Using Regression and Multilevel/Hierarchical Models. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • González-Muñoz N, Linares JC, Castro-Díez P, Sass-Klaassen U. 2014. Predicting climate change impacts on native and invasive tree species using radial growth and twenty-first century climate scenarios. European Journal of Forest Research 133:1073–86.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • González de Andrés E, Camarero JJ, Büntgen U. 2015. Complex climate constraints of upper treeline formation in the Pyrenees. Trees-Structure and Function 29:941–52.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gray ST, Betancourt JL, Jackson ST, Eddy RG. 2006. Role of multidecadal climate variability in a range extension of Pinyon pine. Ecology 87:1124–30.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Hagedorn F, Shiyatov SG, Mazepa VS, Devi NM, Grigor’ev AA, Bartysh AA, Fomin VV, Kapralov DS, Terent’ev M, Bugman H, Rigling A, Moiseev PA. 2014. Treeline advances along the Urals mountain range—driven by improved winter conditions? Global Change Biology 20:3530–43.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Harsch MA, Hulme PE, McGlone MS, Duncan RP. 2009. Are treelines advancing? A global meta-analysis of treeline response to climate warming. Ecology Letters 12:1040–9.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Harsch MA, Buxton R, Duncan RP, Hulme PE, Wardle P, Wilmshurst J. 2012. Causes of tree line stability: stem growth, recruitment and mortality rates over 15 years at New Zealand Nothofagus tree lines. Journal of Biogeography 39:2061–71.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Harris I, Jones PD, Osborn TJ, Lister DH. 2014. Updated high-resolution grids of monthly climatic observations. International Journal of Climatology 34:623–42.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hättenschwiler S, Smith WK. 1999. Seedling occurrence in alpine treeline conifers: a case study from the central Rocky Mountains, USA. Acta Oecologica 20:219–24.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Holtmeier F-K. 2009. Mountain Timberlines-Ecology, Patchiness, and Dynamics. Dordrecht: Springer.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Holtmeier F-K, Broll G. 2005. Sensitivity and response of northern hemisphere altitudinal and polar treelines to environmental change at landscape and local scales. Global Ecology and Biogeography 14:395–410.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • IPCC (2013) Summary for policymakers. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Stocker TF, Qin D, Plattner G-K, Tignor M, Allen SK, Boschung J, Nauels A, Xia Y, Bex V, Midgley PM (editors), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

  • Johnson EA, Miyanishi K, Kleb H. 1994. The hazards of interpretation of static age structures as shown by stand reconstructions in a Pinus contorta-Picea engelmannii forest. Journal of Ecology 82:923–31.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kjellsström E, Nikulin G, Hansson U, Strandberg G, Ullerstig A. 2011. 21st century changes in the European climate: uncertainties derived from an ensemble of regional climate model simulations. Tellus 63A:24–40.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Körner Ch. 2012. Alpine Treelines. Basel: Springer.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Kullman L. 1984. Germinability of mountain birch (Betula pubescens ssp. tortuosa) along two altitudinal transects downslope from the tree-limit. Reports from the Kevo Subarctic Research Station 19:11–18.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kullman L. 2007. Tree line population monitoring of Pinus sylvestris in the Swedish Scandes, 1973–2005: implications for tree line theory and climate change ecology. Journal of Ecology 95:41–52.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kupfer JA, Cairns DM. 1996. The suitability of montane ecotones as indicators of global climatic change. Progress in Physical Geography 20:253–72.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lescourret F, Génard M. 1983. Les graines de Pins à crochets: approche quantitative du rôle consommateur des petits vertébrés. Acta Biologica Montana 2–3:43–76.

    Google Scholar 

  • Liang E, Wang Y, Eckstein D, Luo T. 2011. Little change in the fir tree-line position on the southeastern Tibetan Plateau after 200 years of warming. New Phytologist 190:760–9.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Lloyd AH. 2005. Ecological histories from Alaskan tree Lines provide insight into future change. Ecology 86:1687–95.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lloyd AH, Graumlich LJ. 1997. Holocene dynamics of treeline forests in the Sierra Nevada. Ecology 78:1199–210.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Macias-Fauria M, Johnson EA. 2013. Warming-induced upslope advance of subalpine forest is severely limited by geomorphic processes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110:8117–22.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Martín-Alcón S, Coll L, Aunós A. 2012. A broad-scale analysis of the main factors determining the current structure and understory composition of Catalonian sub-alpine (Pinus uncinata Ram.) forests. Forestry 85:225–36.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Martínez I, Wiegand T, Camarero JJ, Batllori E, Gutiérrez E. 2011. Disentangling the formation of contrasting tree line physiognomies combining model selection and Bayesian parameterization for simulation models. The American Naturalist 177:E136–52.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Martínez I, González-Taboada F, Wiegand T, Camarero JJ, Gutiérrez E. 2012. Dispersal limitation and spatial scale affect model based projections of Pinus uncinata response to climate change in the Pyrenees. Global Change Biology 18:1714–24.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mazepa VS. 2005. Stand density in the last millennium at the upper tree-line ecotone in the Polar Ural Mountains. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 35:2082–91.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Nakicenovic N, Swart R. 2000. Special Report on Emissions Scenarios: A Special Report of Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ninot JM, Carrillo E, Font X, Carreras J, Ferré A, Masalles RM, Soriano I, Vigo J. 2007. Altitude zonation in the Pyrenees. A geobotanic interpretation. Phytocoenologia 37:371–98.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Noble IR. 1993. A model of the responses of ecotones to climate change. Ecological Applications 3:396–403.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Paulsen J, Weber UM, Körner C. 2000. Tree growth near treeline: abrupt or gradual reduction with altitude? Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research 32:14–20.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • R Development Core Team (2015) R: A Language and Environment for Statistical Computing, version 3.1.3. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna.

  • Roeckner E, Bäuml G, Bonaventura L, Brokopf R, Esch M, Giorgetta M, Hagemann S, Kirchner I, Kornblueh L, Manzini E, Rhodin A, Schlese U, Shulzweida U, Tompkins A. 2003. The Atmospheric General Circulation Model ECHAM 5. Part I: Model Description. Hamburg: Max Planck Institute for Meteorology.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rossi S, Deslauriers A, Gričar J, Seo JW, Rathgeber CBK, Anfodillo T, Morin H, Levanic T, Oven P, Jalkanen R. 2008. Critical temperatures for xylogenesis in conifers of cold climates. Global Ecology and Biogeography 17:696–707.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Smith WK, Germino MJ, Hancock TE, Johnson DM. 2003. Another perspective on altitudinal limits of alpine timberlines. Tree Physiology 23:1101–12.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Stoll P, Bergius E. 2005. Pattern and process: competition causes regular spacing of individuals within plant populations. Journal of Ecology 93:395–403.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tardif J, Camarero JJ, Ribas M, Gutiérrez E. 2003. Spatiotemporal variability in tree growth in the central Pyrenees: climatic and site influences. Ecological Monographs 73:241–57.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tranquillini W. 1979. Physiological Ecology of the Alpine Timberline: Tree Existance at High Altitudes with Special Reference to the European Alps. Berlin: Springer.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Villaescusa R, Diaz R. 1998. Segundo Inventario Forestal Nacional (1986–1996). ICONA, Madrid, Spain: Ministerio de Medio Ambiente.

    Google Scholar 

  • Villanueva JA. 2004. Tercer Inventario Forestal Nacional (1997–2007). Comunidad de Madrid, Madrid, Spain: Ministerio de Medio Ambiente.

  • Vittoz P, Rulence B, Largey T, Frelechoux F. 2008. Effects of climate and land-use change on the establishment and growth of Cembran pine (Pinus cembra L.) over the altitudinal treeline ecotone in the Central Swiss Alps. Arctic, Antarctic and Alpine Research 40:225–32.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wang Y, Camarero JJ, Luo T, Liang E. 2012. Spatial patterns of Smith fir alpine treelines on the south-eastern Tibetan Plateau support that contingent local conditions drive recent treeline patterns. Plant Ecology and Diversity 5:311–21.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wardle P. 1993. Causes of alpine timberline: a review of the hypotheses. In: Alden JN, Odum S, Mastrantonio JL, Eds. Forest Development in Cold Climates. New York: Springer. p 89–103.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Wiegand T, Camarero JJ, Rüger N, Gutiérrez E. 2006. Abrupt population changes in treeline ecotones along smooth gradients. Journal of Ecology 94:880–92.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wright SJ, Jaramillo MA, Pavon J, Condit R, Hubbell SP, Foster RB. 2005. Reproductive size thresholds in tropical trees: variation among individuals, species and forests. Journal of Tropical Ecology 21:307–15.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Zuur AF, Ieno EN, Walker NJ, Saveliev AA, Smith GM. 2009. Mixed Effects Models and Extensions in Ecology with R. Heidelberg: Springer.

    Book  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

The authors thank several people for their help in site selection and field sampling. The authors thank the Spanish Ministry of Research who funded this research through projects AMB95–0160 and REN2002–04268-C02. J.C. Linares’ contribution was partly supported by the European Union FEDER 0087 TRANSHABITAT and the “Retos” Project CGL2013-48843-C2-2R (Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness). Enric Batllori acknowledges the support of a Marie Curie IIF grant (Marie Curie IIF, PIFF-GA-2103-625547). The autors sincerely thank the useful comments provided by two anonymous reviewers and the subject editor.

Conflict of Interest

The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to J. Julio Camarero.

Additional information

Author Contributions

JJC and JCL conceived of and designed the study, analyzed data, and led the writing of the paper; AIGC and IM analyzed data and wrote the paper; EB and EG designed the study, performed research, and wrote the paper.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary material 1 (DOC 7727 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Camarero, J.J., Linares, J.C., García-Cervigón, A.I. et al. Back to the Future: The Responses of Alpine Treelines to Climate Warming are Constrained by the Current Ecotone Structure. Ecosystems 20, 683–700 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-016-0046-3

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-016-0046-3

Keywords

Navigation