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Quantifying climate-growth relationships at the stand level in a mature mixed-species conifer forest

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Teets, Aaron ; Fraver, Shawn ; Weiskittel, Aaron R.; Hollinger, David Y.

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Global Change Biology


A range of environmental factors regulate tree growth; however, climate is generally thought to most strongly influence year-to-year variability in growth. Numerous dendrochronological (tree-ring) studies have identified climate factors that influence year-to-year variability in growth for given tree species and location. However, traditional dendrochronology methods have limitations that prevent them from adequately assessing stand-level (as opposed to species-level) growth. We argue that stand-level growth analyses provide a more meaningful assessment of forest response to climate fluctuations, as well as the management options that may be employed to sustain forest productivity. Working in a mature, mixed-species stand at the Howland Research Forest of central Maine, USA, we used two alternatives to traditional dendrochronological analyses by (1) selecting trees for coring using a stratified (by size and species), random sampling method that ensures a representative sample of the stand, and (2) converting ring widths to biomass increments, which once summed, produced a representation of stand-level growth, while maintaining species identities or canopy position if needed. We then tested the relative influence of seasonal climate variables on year-to-year variability in the biomass increment using generalized least squares regression, while accounting for temporal autocorrelation. Our results indicate that stand-level growth responded most strongly to previous summer and current spring climate variables, resulting from a combination of individualistic climate responses occurring at the species- and canopy-position level. Our climate models were better fit to stand-level biomass increment than to species-level or canopy-position summaries. The relative growth responses (i.e., percent change) predicted from the most influential climate variables indicate stand-level growth varies less from to year-to-year than species-level or canopy-position growth responses. By assessing stand-level growth response to climate, we provide an alternative perspective on climate–growth relationships of forests, improving our understanding of forest growth dynamics under a fluctuating climate.


Teets, Aaron; Fraver, Shawn; Weiskittel, Aaron R.; Hollinger, David Y. 2018. Quantifying climate-growth relationships at the stand level in a mature mixed-species conifer forest. Global Change Biology. 24(8): 3587-3602.

Last updated on: September 25, 2018