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Post-Little Ice Age tree line rise and climate warming in the Swedish Scandes: a landscape ecological perspective.
Umeå universitet, EMG, 901 87 Umeå.
Mid Sweden University, Faculty of Science, Technology and Media, Department of Natural Sciences, Engineering and Mathematics.
2009 (English)In: Journal of Ecology, ISSN 0022-0477, E-ISSN 1365-2745, Vol. 97, no 3, p. 415-429Article, review/survey (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Elevational tree line change in the southern Swedish Scandes was quantified for the period 1915-2007 and for two sub-periods 1915-1975 and 1975-2007. The study focused on Betula pubescens ssp. czerepanovii, Picea abies and Pinus sylvestris at a large number of sites distributed over an 8000-km(2) area. The basic approach included revisitations of fixed sites (elevational belt transects) and measurements of tree line positions (m a.s.l.) during these three periods. Over the past century, tree lines of all species rose at 95% of the studied localities, with means of 70-90 m. All three species displayed maximum upshifts by about 200 m, which manifests a near-perfect equilibrium with instrumentally recorded air temperature change. This magnitude of response was realized only in particular topographic situations, foremost wind-sheltered and steep concave slopes. Other sites, with more wind-exposed topoclimatic conditions, experienced lesser magnitudes of upshifts. Thus, spatial elevational tree line responses to climate change are markedly heterogeneous and site-dependent. Modelling of the future evolution of the forest-alpine tundra transition has to consider this fact. Even in a hypothetical case of substantial climate warming, tree lines are unlikely to advance on a broad front and a large proportion of the alpine tundra will remain treeless. During the period 1975-2007, the tree lines of Picea and Pinus (in particular) advanced more rapidly than that of Betula towards the alpine region. These species-specific responses could signal a potential trajectory for the evolution of the ecotone in a warmer future. Thereby a situation with some resemblance with the relatively warm and dry early Holocene would emerge. Substantial tree line upshifts over the past two to three decades coincide with air and soil warming during all seasons. This implies that both summer and winter temperatures have to be included in models of climate-driven tree line performance. Synthesis. Maximum tree line rise by 200 m represents a unique trend break in the long-term Holocene tree line regression, which has been driven by average climate cooling for nearly 10 000 years. Tree line positions are well-restored to their pre-Little Ice Age positions. Recent tree line ascent is a truly anomalous event in Holocene vegetation history and possibly unprecedented for seven millennia.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2009. Vol. 97, no 3, p. 415-429
Keywords [en]
climate change
National Category
Ecology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:miun:diva-8820DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2745.2009.01488.xISI: 000265035400005Scopus ID: 2-s2.0-64549134657OAI: oai:DiVA.org:miun-8820DiVA, id: diva2:213049
Available from: 2009-04-27 Created: 2009-04-27 Last updated: 2017-12-13Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Treeline dynamics in short and long term perspectives: observational and historical evidence from the southern Swedish Scandes
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Treeline dynamics in short and long term perspectives: observational and historical evidence from the southern Swedish Scandes
2010 (English)Licentiate thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Against the background of past, recent and future climate change, the present thesis addresses elevational shifts of alpine treelines in the Swedish Scandes. By definition, treeline refers to the elevation (m a.s.l.) at a specific site of the upper trees of a specific tree species, at least 2 m tall.

Based on historical records, the first part of the thesis reports and analyzes the magnitude of treeline displacements for the main trees species (Betula pubescens ssp. czerepanovii, Picea abies and Pinus sylvestris) since the early 20th century. The study covered a large and heterogeneous region and more than 100 sites. Concurrent with temperature rise by c. 1.4 °C over the past century, maximum treeline advances of all species amount to about 200 m. That is virtually what should be predicted from the recorded temperature change over the same period of time. Thus, it appears that under ideal conditions, treelines respond in close equilibrium with air temperature evolution. However, over most parts of the landscape, conditions are not that ideal and treeline upshifts have therefore been much smaller. The main reason for that discrepancy was found to be topoclimatic constraints, i.e. the combined action of geomorphology, wind, snow distribution, soil depth, etc., which over large parts of the alpine landscape preclude treelines to reach their potential thermal limit.

Recorded treeline advance by maximum 200 m or so over the past century emerges as a truly anomalous event in late Holocene vegetation history.

The second part of the thesis is focused more on long-term changes of treelines and one specific and prevalent mechanism of treeline change. The first part of the thesis revealed that for Picea and Betula, treeline shift was accomplished largely by phenotypic transformation of old-established stunted and prostrate individuals (krummholz) growing high above the treeline. In obvious response to climate warming over the past century, such individuals have transformed into erect tree form, whereby the treeline (as defined here) has risen. As a means for deeper understanding of this mode of positional treeline change, extant clonal spruces, growing around the treeline, were radiocarbon dated from megafossil remains preserved in the soil underneath their canopies. It turned out that Picea abies in particular may attain almost eternal life due to its capability for vegetative reproduction and phenotypic plasticity. Some living clones were in fact inferred to have existed already 9500 years ago, and have thus persisted at the same spot throughout almost the entire Holocene. This contrasts with other tree species, which have left no living relicts from the early Holocene, when they actually grew equally high as the spruce. Thereafter they retracted by more than 300 m in elevation supporting that also on that temporal scale, treelines are highly responsive to climate change.

The early appearance of Picea in the Scandes, suggests that Picea “hibernated” the last glacial phase much closer to Scandinavia than earlier thought. It has also immigrated to northern Sweden much earlier than the old-established wisdom.

The experiences gained in this thesis should constitute essential components of any model striving to the project landscape ecological consequences of possible future climate shifts.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Sundsvall: Department of Natural Sciences, 2010
Series
Mid Sweden University licentiate thesis, ISSN 1652-8948 ; 51
Keywords
Betula pubescens ssp. czerepanovii, Picea abies, Pinus sylvestris, climate change, monitoring, treeline advance, clones, megafossils, immigration, Holocene, cryptic refugia, Swedish Scandes
National Category
Ecology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:miun:diva-12670 (URN)978-91-86694-09-8 (ISBN)
Presentation
2010-12-10, Q221, Campus, Östersund, 13:00 (Swedish)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2010-12-15 Created: 2010-12-14 Last updated: 2013-02-18Bibliographically approved
2. Treeline dynamics in short and long term perspectives: observational and historical evidence from the southern Swedish Scandes
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Treeline dynamics in short and long term perspectives: observational and historical evidence from the southern Swedish Scandes
2013 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Treelines in high-mountain regions are constrained by heat deficiency, although the working mechanisms are still not entirely understood. Observational and paleoecological studies on treeline performance may contribute to increased understanding of the treeline phenomenon in general. The present thesis addresses elevational shifts of alpine treelines in the Swedish Scandes. By various analytical tools, the studies embrace widely different temporal scales.

The concept treeline refers to the elevation (m a.s.l.) at a specific site of the upper individual tree of a certain tree species, at least 2 m tall. All the principal tree species in the Scandes are concerned, i.e. mountain birch (Betula pubescens ssp. czerepanovii), Norway spruce (Picea abies) and Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris).

Paper I deals with regional treeline dynamics at more than 100 sites over the past 100 years. Concurrent with temperature rise by c. 1.4 °C over the same period, maximum treeline advances of all species amount to about 200 m. Thus, under ideal conditions, treelines respond in close equilibrium with air temperature evolution. However, over most parts of the landscape, treeline upshifts have been much smaller than 200 m, which relates to the combined action of geomorphology, wind, snow distribution and soil depth. After 1975, the birch has lost its role as the most rapidly advancing tree species, being superseded by pine and spruce.

Paper II is a short-term (2005/2007-2010/2011) study of mountain birch treeline performance along a regional maritimity-continentality gradient. Upshift by 3.0 yr-1 in the maritime part of the gradient contrasts to retreat by 0.4 m yr-1 in the continental part. In the latter area, earlier and more complete melting of late-lying snow patches has seemingly progressed to a state when soil drought sets back the vigour of existing birches and precludes sexual regeneration and upslope advance of the treeline. In the maritime area, extensive and deep snow packs still exist above the treeline and constrain its position, although some release is taking place in the current warm climate.

Paper III explores treeline change by phenotypic transformation of old-established stunted and prostrate spruce individuals (krummholz) growing high above the treeline and is based on analyses of radiocarbon-dated megafossils, preserved in the soil underneath clonal groups of spruce. Living spruce clones, which in some cases may date back to the early Holocene (9500 cal. yr BP), suggests that spruce immigrated from “cryptic” ice age refugia much closer to Scandinavia than conventionally thought. As the krummholz form presupposes open and windy habitats, it is inferred that permanently open spots prevailed in the high-mountain landscape even during periods when treelines in general were much higher than today.

Paper IV reports radiocarbon dates of wood samples, retrieved from newly exposed glacier forefields at three main sites, located high above the modern treelines and embracing the entire Swedish Scandes. It appears that pine colonized early emerging nunataks already during the Late Glacial. Around 9600-9500 cal. yr BP a first massive wave of tree establishment, birch and pine, took place in “empty” glacier cirques. Both species grew 400-600 m above their present day treeline position and accordingly, the summer temperatures may have been 3.5 °C warmer than present (uncorrected for land uplift). During the entire interval 9600 to 4400 cal. yr BP, birch prospered 100-150 m above the uppermost pines. In response to Neoglacial cooling, treelines of both birch and pine descended until their final disappearance from the record 4400 and 5900 cal. yr BP, respectively. Thereafter, these habitats experienced increased snow accumulation and glacier inception.

Abstract [sv]

Avhandlingen belyser förskjutningar i olika tidsskalor av den alpina trädgränsens läge i de svenska Skanderna. Trädgränsen definieras som den högsta nivån (m ö.h.) för minst 2 m höga individer av en viss art i en definierad del av en fjällsluttning. Avhandlingen består av fyra separata uppsatser, publicerade i olika välrenommerade vetenskapliga tidskrifter. 

I Paper I analyseras förändringar av trädgränserna för fjällens vanligaste trädarter, fjällbjörk, gran och tall (Betula pubescens ssp. czerepanovii, Picea abies och Pinus sylvestris) mellan 1915 och 2007. Undersökningen omfattar ett 8000 km2 stort, naturgeografiskt heterogent område, med mer än 100 lokaler. De maximala trädgränsförskjutningarna för samtliga trädarter uppgår till omkring 200 m. Resultaten motsvarar de trädgränsförskjutningar som teoretiskt kan förutsägas utifrån den temperaturhöjning med cirka 1,4 °C som skett under samma tidsperiod, förutsatt ideala förhållanden. För större delen av området råder emellertid andra, icke-ideala förhållanden, varför trädgränsernas uppflyttning i allmänhet blivit avsevärt mindre än 200 m. Den främsta anledningen till detta är lokala topoklimatiska begränsningar, d.v.s. kombinerade effekter av geomorfologi, vind, snöfördelning, jorddjup, etc., som i stora delar av det starkt brutna fjällandskapet mer eller mindre effektivt hindrar träden från att nå sina potentiellt högst belägna växtplatser betingade av temperaturen. Efter 1975 har björken förlorat sin roll som arten med den snabbast expanderande trädgränsen. I stället har tall och gran avancerat med större hastighet. Det innebär att även om klimatets uppvärmning fortsätter, så kommer det subalpina björkbältet att expandera i avsevärt mindre omfattning än vad som ofta förebådats. Möjligtvis kommer det att ersättas av tall.

Paper II behandlar björkens trädgränsdynamik under perioden 2005/2007-2010/2011 längs en regional klimatgradient med avseende på maritimitet/kontientalitet. Trädgränsen har under den aktuella perioden avancerat 3,0 m/år i den maritimt präglade delen av gradienten, vilket kontrasterar signifikant mot en sänkning med 0,4 m/år i området med mer kontinentalt klimat. Skillnaderna diskuteras i termer av klimatförändringens varierande effekter på snötäckets utbredning och varaktighet och dess inverkan på markfuktigheten. En allt tidigare total utsmältning av snölegorna i de kontinentala områdena har av allt att döma resulterat i vattenbrist under sommaren. Torka medför reducerad vitalitet för existerande björkar och förhindrar både sexuell förökning och uppflyttning av trädgränsen. I de maritima delarna kvarligger alltjämt mycket snö under en stor del av sommaren. Trädgränsens position har därför kunnat bibehållas eller flyttas upp. Vissa omständigheter tyder på att trädgränsens stigning i högre grad har varit baserad på fröföryngring efter 1975, jämfört med perioden 1915-1975.

Utgångspunkten för Paper III är erfarenheter från Paper I, som visar att trädgränsens uppflyttning för gran och björk huvudsakligen är resultatet av ökad höjdtillväxt av äldre, i vissa fall flertusenåriga, mer eller mindre buskformiga individer (krummholz), som vuxit på nivåer långt ovanför trädgränsen. Som ett svar på de senaste hundra årens varmare klimat har dessa antagit trädform, varigenom trädgränsen höjts. För en fördjupad förståelse av den här mekanismen har megafossil, d.v.s. grova vedrester bevarade i marken under gamla grankloner i trädgränsekotonen, 14C-daterats. Resultaten tyder på att granar i exponerad fjällmiljö kan uppnå i det närmaste ”evigt” liv genom sin förmåga till vegetativ förökning och möjligheten att växla mellan busk- och trädform i takt med klimatets växlingar. Vissa nu levande kloner existerade av allt att döma redan för 9500 år sedan. Den nu dokumenterat tidiga förekomsten av gran, bekräftar den på senare tid allt tydligare bilden av granen som en tidig invandrare till fjällkedjan. Möjligtvis har granen ”övervintrat” den senaste istiden närmare Skandinavien än vad som till helt nyligen varit den gängse uppfattningen.

Paper IV behandlar en för Skandinavien ny metod för historisk trädgränsrekonstruktion. I uppsatsen analyseras 14C-dateringar av totalt 78 större veddelar (megafossil) som nyligen exponerats i anslutning till smältande glaciäris och ”perenna” snölegor i tre huvudområden, Helags-Sylarna, Tärna och Abisko, högt ovanför dagens trädgräns. Det framkommer att tall (Pinus sylvestris) koloniserade tidigt framsmälta nunatakker redan under senglacial tid. För omkring 9600-9500 år sedan inträffade en första massiv våg av björk- och talletablering i isfria glaciärnischer. Båda arterna växte 400-600 m ovanför sina nuvarande trädgränspositioner, i ett klimat som kan ha varit 3,5 °C varmare än idag.

Under intervallet 9600 till 4400 BP uppträdde björken i ett 100-150 m brett bälte ovanför de översta tallarna. Som ett svar på klimatets successiva avkylning under senare delen av Holocen sänktes både björkens och tallens trädgränser i de aktuella miljöerna, till dess de för 4400 respektive 5900 år sedan helt försvann från lokaler där glaciärer och perenna snöfält började bildas. De analyserade trädresterna, som länge bevarats av glaciäris och perenn snö representerar en period med ett klimat långt varmare än under det senaste århundradet. Med denna analogi från det förflutna kan det därför antas att i en framtid där sommartemperaturerna rent hypotetiskt är 3,5 °C högre än i nutiden, skulle trädgränserna lokalt kunna flyttas upp med ungefär 600 m.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Sundsvall: Kopieringen Mid Sweden University, 2013. p. 136
Series
Mid Sweden University doctoral thesis, ISSN 1652-893X ; 143
Keywords
Betula pubescens ssp. czerepanovii, Picea abies, Pinus sylvestris, Larix sibirica, climate, Betula pubescens ssp. czerepanovii, Picea abies, Pinus sylvestris, Larix sibirica
National Category
Natural Sciences
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:miun:diva-18458 (URN)978-91-87103-63-6 (ISBN)
Public defence
2013-03-15, Sal G1352,, Mittuniversitetet, Östersund, 10:15 (Swedish)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2013-02-18 Created: 2013-02-12 Last updated: 2013-04-22Bibliographically approved

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