Treeline ecotones are considered early-warning monitors of the effects of climate warming on terrestrial ecosystems, but it is still unclear how tree growth at treeline will track the forecasted temperature rise in these cold environments. Here, we address this issue by analysing and projecting growth responses to climate on two different cold-limited alpine treelines: Pinus uncinata
Ram. in the Spanish Pyrenees and Larix sibirica
Ledeb. in the Russian Polar Urals. We assess radial-growth changes as a function of tree age and long-term climate variability using dendrochronology and a process-based model of tree growth. Climate‒growth relationships were compared considering young (age < 50 years) and old trees (age > 75 years) separately. Warm summer conditions enhanced radial growth, particularly after the 1980s, in the Polar Urals sites, whereas growth was positively related to warm spring and winter conditions in the Pyrenees sites. These associations were stronger in young than in old trees for both tree species and regions. Forecasted warm conditions are expected to enhance growth rates in both regions, while the growing season is forecasted to lengthen in the Pyrenees treelines, mostly in young trees. The observed age-related responses to temperature also depend on the forecasted warming rates. Although the temperature sensitivity is overall increasing for young trees, those responses seem more divergent, or even reversed, throughout the contrasting emission scenarios. The RCP 8.5 emission scenario corresponding to the most pronounced warming and drier conditions (+4.8 °C) could also amplify drought stress in young trees from the Pyrenees treelines. Our modelling approach provides accessible tools to evaluate functional thresholds for tree growth in treeline ecotones under warmer conditions.
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