Theses Doctoral

The environmental drivers of white spruce growth and regeneration at Arctic treeline in a changing climate

Jensen, Johanna

As a temperature-delineated boundary, Arctic treeline is predicted to shift poleward and tree growth is expected to increase in response to rapid warming. The massive scale of the Arctic treeline magnifies these changes to impact energy balance, carbon balance, and climate-related feedbacks at local, regional, and global scales. Yet, not all sections of the Arctic treeline are reporting growth, suggesting factors other than temperature may be becoming more limiting as the climate continues to change. This dissertation investigates how water availability and tree size may modify the response to climate change of a dominant conifer species (white spruce, Picea glauca) growing at an Arctic treeline site in the Brooks Range, Alaska, USA.

The first chapter examines the influence of temperature and water availability on population regeneration and individual tree growth during the 20th century. A climatic shift towards a warmer and drier climate after 1975 caused divergent responses of sapling regeneration and mature tree growth, suggesting that, while individuals have grown, this section of treeline has remained relatively stationary. The second chapter explores the present-day relationships between tree size, temperature, moisture availability, and tree growth by examining the response of intra-annual radial stem growth rate to changing environmental conditions at the Arctic treeline. Tree size and water availability play important roles in moderating the growth response to increasing temperature.

Finally, in the third chapter, the environmental cues which trigger the onset of radial stem growth in spring are identified. The results suggest a combination of winter chilling and subsequent spring heat accumulation initiates onset, like trees growing at lower latitudes. However, the chilling and heating thresholds at this Arctic treeline site were far colder than those identified at lower latitudes, suggesting local adaptation to harsh Arctic winters and springs. Through these new findings, this dissertation advances our understanding of Arctic treeline dynamics and will help to predict the future of the Arctic treeline more accurately in a rapidly changing climate.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology
Thesis Advisors
Griffin, Kevin L.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
January 25, 2023