Snowmelt and early to mid-growing season water availability augment tree growth during rapid warming in southern Asian boreal forests

Published by Stephanie Mayer on

Boreal forests are facing profound changes in their growth environment, including warming-induced water deficits, extended growing seasons, accelerated snowmelt, and permafrost thaw. The influence of warming on trees varies regionally, but in most boreal forests studied to date, tree growth has been found to be negatively affected by increasing temperatures. Here, we used a network of Pinus sylvestris tree-ring collections spanning a wide climate gradient the southern end of the boreal forest in Asia to assess their response to climate change for the period 1958?2014. Contrary to findings in other boreal regions, we found that previously negative effects of temperature on tree growth turned positive in the northern portion of the study network after the onset of rapid warming. Trees in the drier portion did not show this reversal in their climatic response during the period of rapid warming. Abundant water availability during the growing season, particularly in the early to mid-growing season (May?July), is key to the reversal of tree sensitivity to climate. Advancement in the onset of growth appears to allow trees to take advantage of snowmelt water, such that tree growth increases with increasing temperatures during the rapidly warming period. The region’s monsoonal climate delivers limited precipitation during the early growing season, and thus snowmelt likely covers the water deficit so trees are less stressed from the onset of earlier growth. Our results indicate that the growth response of P. sylvestris to increasing temperatures strongly related to increased early season water availability. Hence, boreal forests with sufficient water available during crucial parts of the growing season might be more able to withstand or even increase growth during periods of rising temperatures. We suspect that other regions of the boreal forest may be affected by similar dynamics.