Reproductive limitation mediates the response of white spruce (Picea glauca) to climate warming across the forest–tundra ecotone
Shifts in the extent of the boreal forest during past warm intervals and correlations between climate and the position of the forest–tundra ecotone suggest that recent temperature increases will facilitate forest expansion into tundra ecosystems. In this study, we used a unique set of high-resolution repeat photographs to characterize white spruce (Picea glauca (Moench) Voss) populations in 1980 and 2015 at 52 sites across the forest–tundra transition in the Northwest Territories, Canada. We also conducted field inventories at eight sites to examine mapping accuracy, construct age distributions, and assess cone production and seed viability. Our analysis shows that stand density in the forest–tundra has increased significantly since 1980 but that the density of spruce at sites in the tundra has not changed. Age distributions constructed from field sampling also indicate that recent recruitment has occurred in the forest–tundra but not at tundra sites. The nonlinear relationship between summer temperature and seed viability suggests that recent warming has facilitated recruitment in the northern Subarctic but that cold temperatures still limit recruitment at higher latitude tundra sites. Additional research to determine the extent of changes in forest density across the northern Subarctic should be conducted to determine if similar changes are occurring across this ecotone.