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Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx.) at treeline: a century of change in the San Juan Mountains, Colorado, USA

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During a repeat photography study quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx.) was observed invading conifer stands at treeline in the San Juan Mountains of south-western Colorado. Aspen tree core samples were collected from nine plots ranging in elevation from 3192 to 3547 m, and estimated dates of establishment of aspen were grouped into 10-year intervals for analysis. Estimated periods of establishment were compared with century-long climate data records to derive any correlations with aspen invasion. Other disturbance agents, such as fire and livestock grazing were also considered. Quantitative analysis of climate variables suggests that decreased mean spring precipitation and increased mean summer maximum temperature provide optimal conditions for aspen establishment. Episodes of invasion were non-synchronous, but all occurred after 1900, and are likely from seed germination, considered unusual in aspen. Different climate variables explain stand initiation from seed and subsequent peak establishment from vegetative reproduction. Long-term climate records indicate a general warming since the beginning of the 20th century and explain the continued invasion and persistence of aspen at treeline, resulting from asexual reproduction. Short-term climate records identify anomalously cool, moist years that explain rarely observed sexual reproduction in aspen.
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Keywords: Aspen; Colorado; Populus tremuloides; San Juan Mountains; dendrochronology; landscape change; repeat photography; treeline

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2004-05-01

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