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Pace and Pattern of Recent Treeline Dynamics: Response of Ecotones to Climatic Variability in the Spanish Pyrenees

Abstract

Treeline ecotones are regarded as sensitive monitors of the recent climatic warming. However, it has been suggested that their sensitivity depends more on changes in tree density than on treeline position. We study these processes and the effect of climate, mainly air temperature, on tree recruitment and recent treeline dynamics. We selected three relatively undisturbed sites in the Spanish Pyrenees, dominated by Pinusuncinata, and analyzed their recent dynamics at local spatial (0.3–0.5 ha) and short temporal scales (100–300 years). We wanted to establish whether higher temperature was the only climatic factor causing an upward shift of the studied alpine treelines. The data we report show that treelines were ascending until a period of high interannual variability in mean temperature started (1950–95). During the late twentieth century, treeline fluctuation was less sensitive to climate than was the change in tree density within the ecotone. Tree recruitment and treeline position responded to contrasting climatic signals; tree recruitment was favored by high March temperatures whereas treeline position ascended in response to warm springs. We found a negative relationship between mean treeline-advance rate and March temperature variability. According to our findings, if the interannual variability of March temperature increases, the probability of successful treeline ascent will decrease.

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Camarero, J.J., Gutiérrez, E. Pace and Pattern of Recent Treeline Dynamics: Response of Ecotones to Climatic Variability in the Spanish Pyrenees. Climatic Change 63, 181–200 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1023/B:CLIM.0000018507.71343.46

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1023/B:CLIM.0000018507.71343.46

Keywords

  • Interannual Variability
  • Tree Density
  • Pyrenees
  • Upward Shift
  • Late Twentieth