Competition alters tree growth responses to climate at individual and stand scales

Ford, Kevin R.; Breckheimer, Ian K.; Franklin, Jerry F.; Freund, James A.; Kroiss, Steve J.; Larson, Andrew J.; Theobald, Elinore J.; HilleRisLambers, Janneke
January 2017
Canadian Journal of Forest Research;2017, Vol. 47 Issue 1, p53
Academic Journal
Understanding how climate affects tree growth is essential for assessing climate change impacts on forests but can be confounded by effects of competition, which strongly influences tree responses to climate. We characterized the joint influences of tree size, competition, and climate on diameter growth using hierarchical Bayesian methods applied to permanent sample plot data from the montane forests of Mount Rainier National Park, Washington State, USA, which are mostly comprised of Abies amabilis Douglas ex Forbes, Tsuga heterophylla (Raf.) Sarg., Pseudotsuga menziesii (Mirb.) Franco, and Thuja plicata Donn ex D. Don. Individual growth was sensitive to climate under low but not high competition, likely because tree ability to increase growth under more favorable climates (generally greater energy availability) was constrained by competition, with important variation among species. Thus, climate change will likely increase individual growth most in uncrowded stands with lower competition. However, crowded stands have more and (or) larger trees, conferring greater capacity for aggregate absolute growth increases. Due to these contrasting effects, our models predicted that climate change will lead to greater stand-scale growth increases in stands with medium compared with low crowding but similar increases in stands with medium and high crowding. Thus, competition will mediate the impacts of climate change on individual- and stand-scale growth in important but complex ways.


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