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Tree-limit rise and recent warming: a geoecological case study from the Swedish Scandes

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Twentieth-century elevational tree-limit (TL) and species-limit histories have been reconstructed for Pinus sylvestris, Picea abies and Betula pubescens ssp. tortuosa within a permanent belt transect in the southern Swedish Scandes. Upward TL shifts of 100-130 m between c. 1915 and 1999 appear related to a summer warming of c. 0.7°C, and increased winter temperatures. Rates of tree recruitment and individual growth have increased substantially since 1974, notably during the 1990s, apparently mainly in response to some warm summers and a sequence of exceptionally mild winters. The distributional trend during the 20th century constitutes a fundamental and unexpected break in a monotonic, century-scale TL descent throughout most of the Holocene (exemplified by Pinus sylvestris), which was particularly accentuated during the 'Little Ice Age' of the past several centuries. Assuming that the TL stabilizes at the new, higher level for several decades, its elevation will be higher than at any time during at least the past c. 4000 radiocarbon years. This recent history is relevant as one possible model of the ecological consequences of anthropogenic climate forcing, and the TL may be an appropriate and sensitive system for monitoring the ecological effects of future climate change and variability.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Physical Geography, Department of Ecology and Environmental Science, Umeå University, SE-901 87 Umeå, Sweden

Publication date: 2000-08-08

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