You are on page 1of 48

Pervasive climatemediated changes in western forests

N. Stephenson, J. Littell, P. van Mantgem, D. Peterson, and D. McKenzie

Part 1: Defining the issues and setting the stage Part 2: FOREST DEMOGRAPHY: Ongoing changes Possible future changes Part 3: FOREST GROWTH: Ongoing changes Possible future changes Part 4: A call to action


Climate Fire Forest

Climate Fire Forest

Climate Fire Forest

Already, climate has been linked to episodes of broad-scale forest die-back in the mountainous West Drought
(e.g., southern Calif.)

(e.g., British Columbia)

Credit: USFS

Credit: BC Ministry of Forests and Range

But whats happening and likely to happen in the bulk of mountain forests in the West, which have not experienced extensive die-back?

Credit: Nate Stephenson

Why care?
Recent studies of healthy forests in the American tropics show that substantial directional changes are in progress, with potentially profound consequences.
Credit: Nate Stephenson

Tropical forest COMPOSITION is changing (e.g., lianas [woody vines] are increasing)

Credit: Yadvinder Malhi

Phillips et al., Nature, 2002

Tropical forest DYNAMICS are changing (e.g., recruitment, growth, and mortality rates are increasing)

Recruitment Mortality

Phillips et al., Phil. Trans. B, 2004

Tropical forest STRUCTURE AND FUNCTION are changing (e.g., aboveground biomass, hence C storage, may be increasing) Basal area gain Basal area loss


Lewis et al., Phil. Trans. B, 2004

Are similar changes underway in our Western forests?

Are similar changes underway in our Western forests?

We simply dont know.

No one has been doing the necessary systematic analyses.

Our questions:
In the bulk of mountain forests in the West (which have not experienced extensive die-back): Are climatically-driven changes in progress?
What might we expect for the future?

Our questions:
In the bulk of mountain forests in the West (which have not experienced extensive die-back): Are climatically-driven changes in progress?
What might we expect for the future?

Our approach:
Here, we will address each question separately for:
Forest demography Forest growth

DEMOGRAPHY determines NUMBERS of trees (birth, natality, recruitment & death, mortality)

GROWTH determines SIZES of trees

TOGETHER, demography and growth rates give us a forest (structure, composition, productivity, and dynamics)

DEMOGRAPHY: ongoing changes

Data from dozens of permanent forest plots show that over the last few decades, in the otherwise undisturbed old-growth forests of California, Oregon, and Washington, tree mortality rates have been increasing. However, unlike the tropics, recruitment rates have NOT been increasing.

Possible cause:
Summers are getting longer and drier. Snowpack has been decreasing over most of the West in recent decades

Maximum snow water content

Mote et al., BAMS, 2005

and spring streamflow has been arriving earlier.

Spring-pulse dates
Stewart et al., 2004

Evidence from Californias Sierra Nevada:

Summer drought (water deficit) is increasing, due to increasing temperature (not decreasing precipitation). Increasing tree mortality rates are being driven by increasing deaths due to insects, pathogens, and stress.
Mortality rate (% yr-1)

2.0 1.5 1.0 0.5

160 240








van Mantgem & Stephenson, in prep.

Summer water deficit (mm) (3-yr running mean)


DEMOGRAPHY: possible futures

Some water-limited forests may be primed for a southwestern-style die-back

Credit: Craig Allen & NSF

The recent southwestern drought was not exceptional (it was wetter than the1950s drought), but the temperature was higher Annual precipitation (mm) Annual temperature (C)


Breshears et al., PNAS, 2005

But what about forests that are not primed for a similar die-back? Specifically,
Forests that are currently temperature-limited, not waterlimited (e.g., high-elevation forests, coastal rain forests). Forests that may currently be water-limited, but that will experience substantially increased precipitation.

We can get hints from natural productivity gradients.

Globally, forests of productive environments have higher turnover rates (mortality and recruitment) ... ... at least partly because environments that favor tree growth also favor the organisms that kill trees.

Forest turnover (% yr-1)

4 3 2 1 0

Forest turnover (% yr )


158 50

84 46


4 3 2 1 0

27 Temperate27 only

T R ic r o p i h e ca l rs o il s PTem oo repe r sra oitle s

e rm

xe Mi Gy


g io



Stephenson Temperate& van Mantgem, Ecol. Lett., 2005






In the coniferous forests of the Sierra Nevada: a 4 C increase in temperature is associated with a 0.5 %yr -1 increase in population turnover rate, potentially reducing average tree age by one third.
Forest turnover (% yr )
y = 2.76 - 0.00066 x r 2 = 0.49, P < 0.001

0 1500 2000 2500 3000 3500

Elevation (m)
Stephenson & van Mantgem, Ecol. Lett., 2005

A possible future scenario ...

Benign climatic changes (e.g., warmer and wetter) Increased forest turnover rates Smaller, younger trees Cascading effects on wildlife and biodiversity Reduced forest carbon storage

A possible future scenario ...

Benign climatic changes (e.g., warmer and wetter) Increased forest turnover rates Smaller, younger trees Cascading effects on wildlife and biodiversity Reduced forest carbon storage

... but what about changing growth rates?

Tree and Forest Growth

Compared to biogeography, we know relatively little about long-term, broad-scale climatic controls on lifehistory processes of trees Especially true in non-plantation, mountain ecosystem settings Growth is an indicator of environmental factors influencing species and may be a surrogate for establishment.

GROWTH: Ongoing Changes, 1850-1980

Factor 1 Factor 2

Factor 1= 27 Chronologies w/ high loadings

Factor 2 = 12 Chronologies w/ high loadings

185 Tree-ring chronologies, traditional detrending, factor analysis

Factor 1 = Drought-sensitive tree-ring collections Factor 2 = High elevation, maritime, high-latitude tree-ring collections ~ 146 chronologies dont load highly on either continental pattern
McKenzie et al. 2001. Can. J. For. Res. 31: 526538. Recent growth of conifer species of western North America: assessing spatial patterns of radial growth trends

GROWTH: Ongoing Changes Are Location and Species Dependent

High Lat. & Low Elev.

Low Lat. & High Elev.

These patterns point to three kinds of growth limitation by climate: Water limitation Energy limitation Some combination of water and energy

These patterns primarily represent sites dendroclimatologists would choose. What about the rest of the forests in the West? How do we go from reconstruction-grade sites that tell us about the most sensitive trees to more mechanistic responses that allow inferences for large areas of forests?

GROWTH: Within a species range across biogeographical space, climate impacts depend on elevation


Peterson and Peterson. 2001. Ecology 82: 3330-3345. Mountain hemlock growth responds to climatic variability at annual and decadal time scales.

GROWTH: Across forest types and species within a mountain range, climate impacts depend on physiography

Nakawatase and Peterson. 2006. Can. J. For. Res. 36: 77-91. Spatial variability in forest growth climate relationships in the Olympic Mountains, Washington.

GROWTH: Within a watershed, for the same species, elevation affects growth-climate relationships
Low elevation vs. Max. Sum. T

High elevation vs. Prior PDO

Case and Peterson. 2005. Can. J. For. Res. 35. Fine-scale variability in growthclimate relationships of Douglas-fir, North Cascade Range, Washington.

Growth-limiting factors are not really elevation, latitude, physiography, or even biotic. These are all surrogates for different scales of climatic (water or energy) limitation, and point to the need for MULTI-SCALE, GRADIENT-BASED studies of climatic limitation of growth

411 cm = ANN PPT


72 cm


Quinault North (ONP)

Thornton North (NCNP)

Robinson South (IPNF)

Belly River South (GNP)

Climate Change Local climate Climate Variability Physiography Topography

Highest Elevation


Lowest Elevation


Climate Dimensions of the PSME Transect

Mean Climate Data: DAYMET 1981-1997 Climatic Niche Dimensions: Thompson et al. 2001



Standard Chronology (mod. Z index)


Within each park, the variability in treegrowth is similar across low, middle, and high elevations.


Climate-Growth Correlations: Temperature

VIC Climate

Climate-Growth Relationships: Hydrological Variables

Divisional Climate

Summary: Growth-Climate Relationships

Most frequent patterns of correlations point to combined influence of (-) temperature and (+) precipitation during summer Underscored by PDSI (+) and water balance deficit (-), esp. in IPNF and GNP. Some cool season (+) temp. and (-) snow relationships, primarily in ONP and NCNP.

Bonsai PSME, Saint Mary, Glacier National Park

The magnitude of the correlation between seasonal hydrological variables and tree-growth depends on the position of the plot along a gradient of surplus water in the environment.

GROWTH: Possible Futures

Depends on species, climate regime, and changes in water vs. energy. If we had results for most western conifers, we could estimate responses. But we dont. Yet.

McCabe and Wolock. 2002. Clim. Res. 20: 1929, 2002

We do a pretty good job of monitoring weather, snow, and hydrology.

We need a complementary network of forest gauging stations.

This network of forest gauging stations will have two primary goals:
(1) Change detection (complementary to remote sensing)

(2) Developing a mechanistic understanding (otherwise we are lost)

Mortality rate


h Hig w Lo

In d iv gro idual t High w th re rate e

e S it

cti du pro


Stephenson et al., in prep.

Such a network is taking shape in CORFOR (the Cordillera Forest Dynamics Network)


(... if you have the right kind of data.)