Special Issue "Alpine and Polar Treelines in a Changing Environment"

A special issue of Forests (ISSN 1999-4907). This special issue belongs to the section "Forest Ecology and Management".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (15 December 2019).

Printed Edition Available!
A printed edition of this Special Issue is available here.

Special Issue Editor

Dr. Gerhard Wieser
Website
Guest Editor
Department of Alpine Timberline Ecophysiology, Federal Research and Training Centre for Forests, Natural Hazards and Landscape (BFW), Rennweg 1, 6020 Innsbruck, Austria
Interests: treeline; ecophysiology; climate change; ecosystem manipulation; biogeochemistry

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Concerns have been raised in regards to high-altitude and high-latitude treelines, as they may undergo significant ecological alterations caused by global climate change. Given that treelines in high-altitude and high-latitude regions are temperature-limited vegetation boundaries, they are considered to be sensitive to climate warming. Consequently, in a future, warmer environment, a shift of treelines further upwards is expected, since regeneration and growth are limited by low air and root-zone temperatures. Despite the ubiquity of climate warming, treeline advancement is not a world-wide phenomenon: Evidence shows that treelines have remained stable regardless of the reported increase in temperature. This is because a continuum of site-related factors may interact and establish locally-conditioned temperature patterns. Furthermore, competition amongst species and below-ground resources has been suggested to explain the variability in the responses observed. Finally, the importance of land-use changes for treeline dynamics is increasingly acknowledged, especially in areas with a long history of intense anthropogenic influence e.g. in Europe’s high-elevation forests.

In this Special Issue we explore the current knowledge about climate and land-use changes at treelines. Experimental and field studies on the effects of climate change on tree species in these ecotones are also welcome in this Special Issue.

Dr. Gerhard Wieser
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

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Keywords

  • treeline
  • climate change
  • land-use change
  • anthropogenic impact
  • ecosystem manipulation
  • warming
  • drought
  • historical legacy

Published Papers (17 papers)

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Editorial

Jump to: Research, Review

Open AccessEditorial
Alpine and Polar Treelines in a Changing Environment
Forests 2020, 11(3), 254; https://doi.org/10.3390/f11030254 - 26 Feb 2020
Abstract
Concerns have been raised with respect to the state of high-altitude and high-latitude treelines, as they are anticipated to undergo considerable modifications due to global change, especially due to climate warming [...] Full article

Research

Jump to: Editorial, Review

Open AccessArticle
Growth Trends of Coniferous Species along Elevational Transects in the Central European Alps Indicate Decreasing Sensitivity to Climate Warming
Forests 2020, 11(2), 132; https://doi.org/10.3390/f11020132 - 22 Jan 2020
Cited by 1
Abstract
Tree growth at high elevation in the Central European Alps (CEA) is strongly limited by low temperature during the growing season. We developed a tree ring series of co-occurring conifers (Swiss stone pine, Norway spruce, European larch) along elevational transects stretching from the [...] Read more.
Tree growth at high elevation in the Central European Alps (CEA) is strongly limited by low temperature during the growing season. We developed a tree ring series of co-occurring conifers (Swiss stone pine, Norway spruce, European larch) along elevational transects stretching from the subalpine zone to the krummholz limit (1630–2290 m asl; n = 503 trees) and evaluated whether trends in basal area increment (BAI) are in line with two phases of climate warming, which occurred from 1915–1953 and from 1975–2015. Unexpectedly, results revealed that at subalpine sites (i) intensified climate warming in recent decades did not lead to a corresponding increase in BAI and (ii) increase in summer temperature since 1915 primarily favored growth of larch and spruce, although Swiss stone pine dominates at high elevations in the Eastern CEA, and therefore was expected to mainly benefit from climate warming. At treeline, BAI increases in all species were above the level expected based on determined age trend, whereas at the krummholz limit only deciduous larch showed a minor growth increase. We explain missing adequate growth response to recent climate warming by strengthened competition for resources (nutrients, light, water) in increasingly denser stands at subalpine sites, and by frost desiccation injuries of evergreen tree species at the krummholz limit. To conclude, accurate forecasts of tree growth response to climate warming at high elevation must consider changes in stand density as well as species-specific sensitivity to climate variables beyond the growing season. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Photosynthetic Pigments in Siberian Pine and Fir under Climate Warming and Shift of the Timberline
Forests 2020, 11(1), 63; https://doi.org/10.3390/f11010063 - 04 Jan 2020
Cited by 1
Abstract
Research Highlights: For the first time, the Pinus sibirica Du Tour and Abies sibirica L. conifer forest at the West Sayan ridge timberline has been explored to reveal which species is likely to react to climate change and a shift of the timberline. [...] Read more.
Research Highlights: For the first time, the Pinus sibirica Du Tour and Abies sibirica L. conifer forest at the West Sayan ridge timberline has been explored to reveal which species is likely to react to climate change and a shift of the timberline. Such a shift may modify the ecological functions of the forests. Background and Objectives: Long-term climate change has become obvious in the mountains of southern Siberia. Specifically, a half-century rise in annual mean temperatures has been observed, while precipitation remains unchanged. Trees growing at the timberline are likely to strongly react to climate alterations. The objective was to estimate which of the two species sharing the same habitat would benefit from climate alteration and shifting of the timberline. Materials and Methods: At several altitudes (from 1413 to 1724 m a.s.l.), samples of P. sibirica and A. sibirica needles have been collected and contents of chlorophyll a and b as well as carotenoids were measured in June 2019. The temperature of needles of the two species was measured in both cloudy and sunny weather conditions. Results: The studied species have been shown to have different patterns of pigment variations with the growth of altitude. The decline of chlorophylls and carotenoids was more pronounced in P. sibirica (ratio at timberline ca. 2.2) than in A. sibirica (ratio ca. 3.1). Accordingly, the electron transport rate decreased more strongly in P. sibirica at the timberline (ca. 37.2 μmol of electrons/m−2 s−1) than in A. sibirica (56.9 μmol of electrons/m−2 s−1). The temperatures of needles in both cloudy and sunny weather were higher in A. sibirica (10.5 and 43.3 °C, respectively) than in P. sibirica (3.8 and 24.2 °C, respectively). Conclusions: The considered physiological and ecological traits show that P. sibirica is better protected from higher-altitude hazards (excess insolation, rise of temperature etc.) than A. sibirica. P. sibirica may be therefore a more likely winner than A. sibirica in the movement of the mountain timberline under climate warming in the area. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Arctic Greening Caused by Warming Contributes to Compositional Changes of Mycobiota at the Polar Urals
Forests 2019, 10(12), 1112; https://doi.org/10.3390/f10121112 - 06 Dec 2019
Cited by 1
Abstract
The long-term influence of climate change on spatio-temporal dynamics of the Polar mycobiota was analyzed on the eastern macro slope of the Polar Urals (Sob River valley and Mountain Slantsevaya) over a period of 60 years. The anthropogenic impact is minimal in the [...] Read more.
The long-term influence of climate change on spatio-temporal dynamics of the Polar mycobiota was analyzed on the eastern macro slope of the Polar Urals (Sob River valley and Mountain Slantsevaya) over a period of 60 years. The anthropogenic impact is minimal in the study area. Effects of environmental warming were addressed as changes in treeline and forest communities (greening of the vegetation). With warming, permafrost is beginning to thaw, and as it thaws, it decomposes. Therefore, we also included depth of soil thawing and litter decomposition in our study. Particular attention was paid to the reaction of aphyllophoroid fungal communities concerning these factors. Our results provide evidence for drastic changes in the mycobiota due to global warming. Fungal community composition followed changes of the vegetation, which was transforming from forest-tundra to northern boreal type forests during the last 60 years. Key fungal groups of the ongoing borealization and important indicator species are discussed. Increased economic activity in the area may lead to deforestation, destruction of swamps, and meadows. However, this special environment provides important services such as carbon sequestration, soil formation, protecting against flood risks, and filtering of air. In this regard, we propose to include the studied territory in the Polarnouralsky Natural Park. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Dendroclimatic Assessment of Ponderosa Pine Radial Growth along Elevational Transects in Western Montana, U.S.A.
Forests 2019, 10(12), 1094; https://doi.org/10.3390/f10121094 - 02 Dec 2019
Cited by 1
Abstract
Ponderosa pine (PP) is the most common and widely distributed pine species in the western United States, spanning from southern Canada to the United States–Mexico border. PP can be found growing between sea level and 3000 meters elevation making them an ideal species [...] Read more.
Ponderosa pine (PP) is the most common and widely distributed pine species in the western United States, spanning from southern Canada to the United States–Mexico border. PP can be found growing between sea level and 3000 meters elevation making them an ideal species to assess the effects of changing climatic conditions at a variety of elevations. Here we compare PP standardized and raw growth responses to climate conditions along an elevational transect spanning 1000 meters in western Montana, U.S.A., a region that experienced a 20th century warming trend and is expected to incur much warmer (3.1–4.5 °C) and slightly drier summers (~0.3 cm decrease per month) by the end on the 21st century. Specifically, we assess if there are climate/growth differences based on relative (i.e., site-specific) and absolute (i.e., combined sites) elevation between groups of trees growing in different elevational classes. We find that values of the Palmer drought severity index (PDSI) in July are most strongly related to radial growth and that within-site elevation differences are a poor predictor of the response of PP to either wet or dry climatic conditions (i.e., years with above or below average July PDSI values). These results suggest that any generalization that stands of PP occurring at their elevational margins are most vulnerable to changing climatic may not be operative at these sites in western Montana. Our results show that when using standardized ring widths, PP growing at the lowest and highest elevations within western Montana exhibit differential growth during extreme climatological conditions with lower-elevation trees outperforming higher-elevation trees during dry years and vice versa during wet years. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Temperature, Wind, Cloud, and the Postglacial Tree Line History of Sub-Antarctic Campbell Island
Forests 2019, 10(11), 998; https://doi.org/10.3390/f10110998 - 07 Nov 2019
Cited by 1
Abstract
Campbell Island, which is 600 km south of New Zealand, has the southernmost tree line in this ocean sector. Directly under the maximum of the westerlies, the island is sensitive to changes in wind strength and direction. Pollen records from three peat cores [...] Read more.
Campbell Island, which is 600 km south of New Zealand, has the southernmost tree line in this ocean sector. Directly under the maximum of the westerlies, the island is sensitive to changes in wind strength and direction. Pollen records from three peat cores spanning the tree line ecotone provide a 17,000-year history of vegetation change, temperature, and site moisture. With postglacial warming, tundra was replaced by tussock grassland 12,500 years ago. A subsequent increase of shrubland was reversed at 10,500 years ago and wetland-grassland communities became dominant. Around 9000 years ago, trees spread, with maximum tree line elevation reached around 6500 to 3000 years ago. This sequence is out of step with Southern Ocean sea surface temperatures, which were warmer than 12,500 to 9000 years ago, and, subsequently, cooled. Campbell Island tree lines were decoupled from temperature trends in the adjacent ocean by weaker westerlies from 12,500 to 9000 years ago, which leads to the intrusion of warmer, cloudier northern airmasses. This reduced solar radiation and evapotranspiration while increasing atmospheric humidity and substrate wetness, which suppressed tree growth. Cooler, stronger westerlies in the Holocene brought clearer skies, drier air, increased evapotranspiration, and rising tree lines. Future global warming will not necessarily lead to rising tree lines in oceanic regions. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Winter Embolism and Recovery in the Conifer Shrub Pinus mugo L.
Forests 2019, 10(11), 941; https://doi.org/10.3390/f10110941 - 24 Oct 2019
Cited by 3
Abstract
Research Highlights: Pronounced winter embolism and recovery were observed in the Alpine conifer shrub Pinus mugo L. Data indicated that the hydraulic courses and underlying mechanism were similar to timberline trees. Background and Objectives: At high elevation, plants above the snow cover are [...] Read more.
Research Highlights: Pronounced winter embolism and recovery were observed in the Alpine conifer shrub Pinus mugo L. Data indicated that the hydraulic courses and underlying mechanism were similar to timberline trees. Background and Objectives: At high elevation, plants above the snow cover are exposed to frost drought and temperature stress during winter. Previous studies demonstrated winter stress to induce low water potentials (Ψ) and significant xylem embolism (loss of conductivity, or LC) in evergreen conifer trees, and recovery from embolism in late winter. Here, we analyzed xylem hydraulics and related structural and cellular changes in a conifer shrub species. Materials and Methods: The uppermost branches of Pinus mugo shrubs growing at the Alpine timberline were harvested over one year, and the Ψ, water content, LC, proportion of aspirated pits, and carbohydrate contents were analyzed. Results: Minimum Ψ (−1.82 ± 0.04 MPa) and maximum LC (39.9% ± 14.5%) values were observed in mid and late winter, followed by a recovery phase. The proportion of aspirated pits was also highest in winter (64.7% ± 6.9% in earlywood, 27.0% ± 1.4% in latewood), and decreased in parallel with hydraulic recovery in late winter and spring. Glucose and fructose contents gradually decreased over the year, while starch contents (also microscopically visible as starch grains in needle and stem tissues) increased from May to July. Conclusions: The formation and recovery of embolism in Pinus mugo were similar to those of timberline trees, as were the underlying mechanisms, with pit aspiration enabling the isolation of embolized tracheids, and changes in carbohydrate contents indicating adjustments of osmotic driving forces for water re-distribution. The effects of future changes in snow cover regimes may have pronounced and complex effects on shrub-like growth forms, because a reduced snow cover may shorten the duration of frost drought, but expose the plants to increased temperature stress and impair recovery processes. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Microsites and Climate Zones: Seedling Regeneration in the Alpine Treeline Ecotone Worldwide
Forests 2019, 10(10), 864; https://doi.org/10.3390/f10100864 - 03 Oct 2019
Cited by 2
Abstract
Microsites, local features having the potential to alter the environment for seedling regeneration, may help to define likely trends in high-elevation forest regeneration pattern. Although multiple microsites may exist in any alpine treeline ecotone (ATE) on any continent, some microsites appear to enhance [...] Read more.
Microsites, local features having the potential to alter the environment for seedling regeneration, may help to define likely trends in high-elevation forest regeneration pattern. Although multiple microsites may exist in any alpine treeline ecotone (ATE) on any continent, some microsites appear to enhance density of seedling regeneration better than others. Known seedling regeneration stresses in the ATE include low temperature, low substrate moisture, high radiation, drought, wind, and both high and low snowfall amount. Relationships among various microsite types, annual temperature, annual precipitation, and tree genera groups were assessed by synthesizing 52 studies from 26 countries spanning six continents. By categorization of four main microsite types (convex, concave, object, and wood) by mean annual precipitation and temperature, four major climatic zone associations were distinguished: cold & dry, cold & wet, warm & dry, warm & wet. Successful tree recruitment varied among microsite types and by climatic zones. In general, elevated convex sites and/or decayed wood facilitated earlier snow melt for seedlings located in cold & wet climates with abundant snowfall, depressions or concave sites enhanced summer moisture and protected seedlings from wind chill exposure for seedlings growing in cold & dry locations, and objects protected seedlings from excessive radiation and wind in warm & dry high locations. Our study results suggest that climate change will most benefit seedling regeneration in cold & wet locations and will most limit seedling regeneration in warm & dry locations given likely increases in fire and drought. Study results suggest that high-elevation mountain forests with water-limited growing seasons are likely to experience recruitment declines or, at best, no new recruitment advantage as climate warms. Climate envelope models, generally focusing on adult trees rather than seedling requirements, often assume that a warming climate will move tree species upward. Study results suggest that climate models may benefit from more physically-based considerations of microsites, climate, and current seedling regeneration limitations. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Photosynthetic Performance in Pinus canariensis at Semiarid Treeline: Phenotype Variability to Cope with Stressful Environment
Forests 2019, 10(10), 845; https://doi.org/10.3390/f10100845 - 27 Sep 2019
Cited by 2
Abstract
Low temperatures represent the most important environmental stress for plants at the treeline ecotone; however, drought periods at the semiarid treeline could modify photosynthetic performance patterns. Gas exchange, chlorophyll fluorescence, photosynthetic pigments, and α-tocopherol were measured in a Pinus canariensis forest located at [...] Read more.
Low temperatures represent the most important environmental stress for plants at the treeline ecotone; however, drought periods at the semiarid treeline could modify photosynthetic performance patterns. Gas exchange, chlorophyll fluorescence, photosynthetic pigments, and α-tocopherol were measured in a Pinus canariensis forest located at a semiarid treeline forest at 2070 m altitude over a whole year. The level of summer drought, caused by an extended period without rain and very low previous rainfall, was remarkable during the study. Furthermore, the cold season showed extraordinarily low temperatures, which persisted for five months. All of these factors combined made the study period an extraordinary opportunity to improve our understanding of photosynthetic performance in a drought-affected treeline ecotone. A high dynamism in all the measured parameters was detected, showing robust changes over the year. Maximum photosynthesis and optimal values were concentrated over a short period in spring. Beyond that, fine regulation in stomatal closure, high WUEi with a great plasticity, and changes in pigments and antioxidative components prevented dehydration during drought. In winter, a strong chronic photoinhibition was detected, and α-tocopherol and β-carotene acquired a main role as protective molecules, accompanied by morphological variations as changes in specific leaf areas to avoid freezing. The recovery in the next spring, i.e., after these extreme environmental conditions returned to normal, showed a strategy based on the breakdown of pigments and lower photosynthetic functions during the winter, and rebuilding and regreening. So, a high level of plasticity, together with some structural and physiological adaptations, make P. canariensis able to cope with stresses at the treeline. Nevertheless, the carbon gain was more limited by drought than by low temperatures and more extended droughts predicted in future climate change scenarios may strongly affect this forest. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Artificial Top Soil Drought Hardly Affects Water Use of Picea abies and Larix decidua Saplings at the Treeline in the Austrian Alps
Forests 2019, 10(9), 777; https://doi.org/10.3390/f10090777 - 06 Sep 2019
Cited by 2
Abstract
This study quantified the effect of shallow soil water availability on sap flow density (Qs) of 4.9 ± 1.5 m tall Picea abies and Larix decidua saplings at treeline in the Central Tyrolean Alps, Austria. We installed a transparent roof [...] Read more.
This study quantified the effect of shallow soil water availability on sap flow density (Qs) of 4.9 ± 1.5 m tall Picea abies and Larix decidua saplings at treeline in the Central Tyrolean Alps, Austria. We installed a transparent roof construction around three P. abies and three L. decidua saplings to prevent precipitation from reaching the soil surface without notably influencing the above ground microclimate. Three additional saplings from each species served as controls in the absence of any manipulation. Roofing significantly reduced soil water availability at a 5–10 cm soil depth, while soil temperature was not affected. Sap flow density (using Granier-type thermal dissipation probes) and environmental parameters were monitored throughout three growing seasons. In both species investigated, three years of rain exclusion did not considerably reduce Qs. The lack of a significant Qs-soil water content correlation in P. abies and L. decidua saplings indicates sufficient water supply, suggesting that whole plant water loss of saplings at treeline primarily depends on evaporative demand. Future work should test whether the observed drought resistance of saplings at the treeline also holds for adult trees. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Weak Apical Control of Swiss Stone Pine (Pinus cembra L.) May Serve as a Protection against Environmental Stress above Treeline in the Central European Alps
Forests 2019, 10(9), 744; https://doi.org/10.3390/f10090744 - 28 Aug 2019
Cited by 1
Abstract
At the treeline in the Central European Alps, adverse climate conditions impair tree growth and cause krummholz formation of Swiss stone pine (Pinus cembra L.). Multi-stemmed trees (tree clusters) are frequently found in the treeline ecotone and are generally thought to originate [...] Read more.
At the treeline in the Central European Alps, adverse climate conditions impair tree growth and cause krummholz formation of Swiss stone pine (Pinus cembra L.). Multi-stemmed trees (tree clusters) are frequently found in the treeline ecotone and are generally thought to originate from seed caches (multiple genets) of the European nutcracker (N. caryocatactes) or due to repeated damage of the leader shoot by browsing or mechanical stress (single genet). Additionally, lack of apical control can lead to upward bending of lateral branches, which may obscure single-genet origin if the lower branching points are overgrown by vegetation and the humus layer. The multi-stemmed growth form may serve as a means of protection against extreme environmental stress during winter, especially at wind-exposed sites, because leeward shoots are protected from, e.g., ice particle abrasion and winter desiccation. The aims of this study therefore were to analyze in an extensive field survey: (i) whether weak apical control may serve as a protection against winter stress; and (ii) to what extent the multi-stemmed growth form of P. cembra in the krummholz zone is originating from a single genet or multiple genets. To accomplish this, the growth habit of P. cembra saplings was determined in areas showing extensive needle damage caused by winter stress. Multi-stemmed saplings were assigned to single and multiple genets based on determination of existing branching points below the soil surface. The findings revealed that upward bending of lateral branches could protect saplings against winter stress factors, and, although multi-stemmed P. cembra trees were primarily found to originate from multiple genets (most likely seed caches), about 38% of tree clusters originated from upward bending of (partially) buried branches. The results suggest that weak apical control of P. cembra in the sapling stage might be an adaptation to increase survival rate under severe climate conditions prevailing above treeline during winter. Full article
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Open AccessCommunication
High Resolution Maps of Climatological Parameters for Analyzing the Impacts of Climatic Changes on Swiss Forests
Forests 2019, 10(8), 617; https://doi.org/10.3390/f10080617 - 25 Jul 2019
Cited by 1
Abstract
Assessing the impacts of climatic changes on forests requires the analysis of actual climatology within the forested area. In mountainous areas, climatological indices vary markedly with the micro-relief, i.e., with altitude, slope, and aspect. Consequently, when modelling potential shifts of altitudinal belts in [...] Read more.
Assessing the impacts of climatic changes on forests requires the analysis of actual climatology within the forested area. In mountainous areas, climatological indices vary markedly with the micro-relief, i.e., with altitude, slope, and aspect. Consequently, when modelling potential shifts of altitudinal belts in mountainous areas due to climatic changes, maps with a high spatial resolution of the underlying climatological indices are fundamental. Here we present a set of maps of climatological indices with a spatial resolution of 25 by 25 m. The presented dataset consists of maps of the following parameters: average daily temperature high and low in January, April, July, and October as well as of the year; seasonal and annual thermal continentality; first and last freezing day; frost-free vegetation period; relative air humidity; solar radiation; and foehn conditions. The parameters represented in the maps have been selected in a knowledge engineering approach. The maps show the climatology of the periods 1961–1990 and 1981–2010. The data can be used for statistical analyses of forest climatology, for developing tree distribution models, and for assessing the impacts of climatic changes on Swiss forests. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Latitude and Weather Influences on Sun Light Quality and the Relationship to Tree Growth
Forests 2019, 10(8), 610; https://doi.org/10.3390/f10080610 - 24 Jul 2019
Cited by 1
Abstract
Natural changes in photoperiod, light quantity, and quality play a key role in plant signaling, enabling daily and seasonal adjustment of growth and development. Growing concern about the global climate crisis together with scattered reports about the interactive effects of temperature and light [...] Read more.
Natural changes in photoperiod, light quantity, and quality play a key role in plant signaling, enabling daily and seasonal adjustment of growth and development. Growing concern about the global climate crisis together with scattered reports about the interactive effects of temperature and light parameters on plants necessitates more detailed information about these effects. Furthermore, the actual light emitting diode (LED) lighting technology allows mimicking of light climate scenarios more similar to natural conditions, but to fully exploit this in plant cultivation, easy-to-apply knowledge about the natural variation in light quantity and spectral distribution is required. Here, we aimed to provide detailed information about short and long-term variation in the natural light climate, by recording the light quantity and quality at an open site in Switzerland every minute for a whole year, and to analyze its relationship to a set of previous tree seedling growth experiments. Changes in the spectral composition as a function of solar elevation angle and weather conditions were analyzed. At a solar elevation angle lower than 20°, the weather conditions have a significant effect on the proportions of blue (B) and red (R) light, whereas the proportion of green (G) light is almost constant. At a low solar elevation, the red to far red (R:FR) ratio fluctuates between 0.8 in cloudy conditions and 1.3 on sunny days. As the duration of periods with low solar angles increases with increasing latitude, an analysis of previous experiments on tree seedlings shows that the effect of the R:FR ratio correlates with the responses of plants from different latitudes to light quality. We suggest an evolutionary adaptation where growth in seedlings of selected tree species from high latitudes is more dependent on detection of light quantity of specific light qualities than in such seedlings originating from lower latitudes. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Leaf and Soil δ15N Patterns Along Elevational Gradients at Both Treelines and Shrublines in Three Different Climate Zones
Forests 2019, 10(7), 557; https://doi.org/10.3390/f10070557 - 03 Jul 2019
Cited by 1
Abstract
The natural abundance of stable nitrogen (N) isotope (δ15N) in plants and soils can reflect N cycling processes in ecosystems. However, we still do not fully understand patterns of plant and soil δ15N at alpine treelines and shrublines in [...] Read more.
The natural abundance of stable nitrogen (N) isotope (δ15N) in plants and soils can reflect N cycling processes in ecosystems. However, we still do not fully understand patterns of plant and soil δ15N at alpine treelines and shrublines in different climate zones. We measured δ15N and N concentration in leaves of trees and shrubs and also in soils along elevational gradients from lower altitudes to the upper limits of treelines and shrublines in subtropical, dry- and wet-temperate regions in China. The patterns of leaf δ15N in trees and shrubs in response to altitude changes were consistent, with lower values occurring at higher altitude in all three climate zones, but such patterns did not exist for leaf Δδ15N and soil δ15N. Average δ15N values of leaves (−1.2‰) and soils (5.6‰) in the subtropical region were significantly higher than those in the two temperate regions (−3.4‰ and 3.2‰, respectively). Significant higher δ15N values in subtro4pical forest compared with temperate forests prove that N cycles are more open in warm regions. The different responses of leaf and soil δ15N to altitude indicate complex mechanisms of soil biogeochemical process and N sources uptake with environmental variations. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Microsite Effects on Physiological Performance of Betula ermanii at and Beyond an Alpine Treeline Site on Changbai Mountain in Northeast China
Forests 2019, 10(5), 400; https://doi.org/10.3390/f10050400 - 09 May 2019
Cited by 2
Abstract
The alpine treeline demarcates the temperature-limited upper elevational boundary of the tree life form. However, this treeline does not always occur exclusively as a sharp “line”, outposts of tree groups (OTG) with a height of at least 3 m are often observed in [...] Read more.
The alpine treeline demarcates the temperature-limited upper elevational boundary of the tree life form. However, this treeline does not always occur exclusively as a sharp “line”, outposts of tree groups (OTG) with a height of at least 3 m are often observed in microsites up to several hundred meters beyond the line of continuous forest on some mountains. This suggests that other factors such as microenvironment may play a significant role in compensating for the alpine tree facing growth-limiting low temperature conditions. To test the microenvironment effects, this study compared the differences in growing conditions (climate and soil properties) and ecophysiological performance of Erman’s birch (Betula ermanii Cham.) trees growing in a continuous treeline site (CTL, ~1950 m above sea level, a.s.l.) and OTGs (~2050 m a.s.l.) on Changbai Mountain in northeastern China. The results show the average 2-m air temperature for OTG was slightly lower in the non-growing season than which at the CTL (−10.2 °C < −8.4 °C), there was no difference in growing season air temperature and soil temperature at 10 cm depth between CTL and OTG. The contents of focal soil nutrients in CTL and OTG were similar. Difference in K and Mn contents between sites were detected in leaves, difference in K, Mn, and Zn in shoots. However, comparing similarity of ecophysiological performances at an individual level, trees at CTL and OTG show no significant difference. Our study reveals that mature trees at the CTL and OTG experience generally similar environmental conditions (climate and soil properties) and exhibit similar overall ecophysiological performance (reflected in carbon reserves and nutrients). This might provide insight into how mature trees might be able to survive in areas higher than the continuous treeline, as well as the importance of microclimatic amelioration provided by protective microsites and the trees themselves. Full article
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Review

Jump to: Editorial, Research

Open AccessEditor’s ChoiceReview
Treeline Research—From the Roots of the Past to Present Time. A Review
Forests 2020, 11(1), 38; https://doi.org/10.3390/f11010038 - 26 Dec 2019
Cited by 1
Abstract
Elevational and polar treelines have been studied for more than two centuries. The aim of the present article is to highlight in retrospect the scope of treeline research, scientific approaches and hypotheses on treeline causation, its spatial structures and temporal change. Systematic treeline [...] Read more.
Elevational and polar treelines have been studied for more than two centuries. The aim of the present article is to highlight in retrospect the scope of treeline research, scientific approaches and hypotheses on treeline causation, its spatial structures and temporal change. Systematic treeline research dates back to the end of the 19th century. The abundance of global, regional, and local studies has provided a complex picture of the great variety and heterogeneity of both altitudinal and polar treelines. Modern treeline research started in the 1930s, with experimental field and laboratory studies on the trees’ physiological response to the treeline environment. During the following decades, researchers’ interest increasingly focused on the altitudinal and polar treeline dynamics to climate warming since the Little Ice Age. Since the 1970s interest in treeline dynamics again increased and has considerably intensified from the 1990s to today. At the same time, remote sensing techniques and GIS application have essentially supported previous analyses of treeline spatial patterns and temporal variation. Simultaneously, the modelling of treeline has been rapidly increasing, often related to the current treeline shift and and its implications for biodiversity, and the ecosystem function and services of high-elevation forests. It appears, that many seemingly ‘new ideas’ already originated many decades ago and just confirm what has been known for a long time. Suggestions for further research are outlined. Full article
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Open AccessReview
Effects of Climate Change at Treeline: Lessons from Space-for-Time Studies, Manipulative Experiments, and Long-Term Observational Records in the Central Austrian Alps
Forests 2019, 10(6), 508; https://doi.org/10.3390/f10060508 - 14 Jun 2019
Cited by 3
Abstract
This review summarizes the present knowledge about effects of climate change on conifers within the treeline ecotone of the Central Austrian Alps. After examining the treeline environment and the tree growth with respect to elevation, possible effects of climate change on carbon gain [...] Read more.
This review summarizes the present knowledge about effects of climate change on conifers within the treeline ecotone of the Central Austrian Alps. After examining the treeline environment and the tree growth with respect to elevation, possible effects of climate change on carbon gain and water relations derived from space-for-time studies and manipulative experiments are outlined. Finally, long-term observational records are discussed, working towards conclusions on tree growth in a future, warmer environment. Increases in CO2 levels along with climate warming interact in complex ways on trees at the treeline. Because treeline trees are not carbon limited, climate warming (rather than the rising atmospheric CO2 level) causes alterations in the ecological functioning of the treeline ecotone in the Central Austrian Alps. Although the water uptake from soils is improved by further climate warming due to an increased permeability of root membranes and aquaporin-mediated changes in root conductivity, tree survival at the treeline also depends on competitiveness for belowground resources. The currently observed seedling re-establishment at the treeline in the Central European Alps is an invasion into potential habitats due to decreasing grazing pressure rather than an upward-migration due to climate warming, suggesting that the treeline in the Central Austrian Alps behaves in a conservative way. Nevertheless, to understand the altitude of the treeline, one must also consider seedling establishment. As there is a lack of knowledge on this particular topic within the treeline ecotone in the Central Austrian Alps, we conclude further research has to focus on the importance of this life stage for evaluating treeline shifts and limits in a changing environment. Full article
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