Approaching a thermal tipping point in the Eurasian boreal forest at its southern margin

Rao, Mukund Palat; Davi, Nicole K.; Magney, Troy S.; Andreu-Hayles, Laia; Nachin, Baatarbileg; Suran, Byambagerel; Varuolo-Clarke, Arianna Marie; Cook, Benjamin I.; D’Arrigo, Rosanne D.; Pederson, Neil; Odrentsen, Lkhagvajargal; Rodriguez-Caton, Milagros; Leland, Caroline Wogan; Burentogtokh, Jargalan; R. M. Gardner, William; Griffin, Kevin L.

Climate change is increasing the intensity and frequency of extreme heat events. Ecological responses to extreme heat will depend on vegetation physiology and thermal tolerance. Here we report that Larix sibirica, a foundation species across boreal Eurasia, is vulnerable to extreme heat at its southern range margin due to its low thermal tolerance (Tcrit of photosynthesis: ~ 37–48 °C). Projections from CMIP6 Earth System Models (ESMs) suggest that leaf temperatures might exceed the 25th percentile of Larix sibirica’s Tcrit by two to three days per year within the next two to three decades (by 2050) under high emission scenarios (SSP3-7.0 and SSP5-8.5). This degree of warming will threaten the biome’s continued ability to assimilate and sequester carbon. This work highlights that under high emission trajectories we may approach an abrupt ecological tipping point in southern boreal Eurasian forests substantially sooner than ESM estimates that do not consider plant thermal tolerance traits.


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Communications Earth & Environment