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Van Bogaert R.,Flanders Research Foundation FWO | Van Bogaert R.,Ghent University | Haneca K.,Ghent University | Hoogesteger J.,University of Helsinki | And 5 more authors.
Journal of Biogeography | Year: 2011

Aim Models project that climate warming will cause the tree line to move to higher elevations in alpine areas and more northerly latitudes in Arctic environments. We aimed to document changes or stability of the tree line in a sub-Arctic model area at different temporal and spatial scales, and particularly to clarify the ambiguity that currently exists about tree line dynamics and their causes. Location The study was conducted in the Torneträsk area in northern Sweden where climate warmed by 2.5°C between 1913 and 2006. Mountain birch (Betula pubescens ssp. czerepanovii) sets the alpine tree line. Methods We used repeat photography, dendrochronological analysis, field observations along elevational transects and historical documents to study tree line dynamics. Results Since 1912, only four out of eight tree line sites had advanced: on average the tree line had shifted 24m upslope (+0.2myear -1 assuming linear shifts). Maximum tree line advance was +145m (+1.5myear -1 in elevation and +2.7myear -1 in actual distance), whereas maximum retreat was 120m downslope. Counter-intuitively, tree line advance was most pronounced during the cooler late 1960s and 1970s. Tree establishment and tree line advance were significantly correlated with periods of low reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) population numbers. A decreased anthropozoogenic impact since the early 20th century was found to be the main factor shaping the current tree line ecotone and its dynamics. In addition, episodic disturbances by moth outbreaks and geomorphological processes resulted in descent and long-term stability of the tree line position, respectively. Main conclusions In contrast to what is generally stated in the literature, this study shows that in a period of climate warming, disturbance may not only determine when tree line advance will occur but if tree line advance will occur at all. In the case of non-climatic climax tree lines, such as those in our study area, both climate-driven model projections of future tree line positions and the use of the tree line position for bioclimatic monitoring should be used with caution. © 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.


Van Bogaert R.,Flanders Research Foundation FWO | Van Bogaert R.,Ghent University | Jonasson C.,Royal Swedish Academy Of Sciences | Jonasson C.,Uppsala University | And 3 more authors.
Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research | Year: 2010

In subarctic Sweden, recent decadal colonization and expansion of aspen (Populus tremula L.) were recorded. Over the past 100 years, aspen became c. 16 times more abundant, mainly as a result of increased sexual regeneration. Moreover, aspen now reach tree-size (>2 m) at the alpine treeline, an ecotone that has been dominated by mountain birch (Betula pubescens ssp. czerepanovii) for at least the past 4000 years. We found that sexual regeneration in aspen probably occurred seven times or more within the last century. Whereas sexual regeneration occurred during moist years following a year with an exceptionally high JuneJuly temperature, asexual regeneration was favored by warm and dry summers. Disturbance to the birch forest by cyclic moth population outbreaks was critical in aspen establishment in the subalpine area. At the treeline, aspen colonization was less determined by these moth outbreaks, and was mainly restricted by summer temperature. If summer warming persists, aspen spread may continue in subarctic Sweden, particularly at the treeline. However, changing disturbance regimes, future herbivore population dynamics and the responses of aspen's competitors birch and pine to a changing climate may result in different outcomes. © 2010 Regents of the University of Colorado.

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