Increased stem density and competition may diminish the positive effects of warming at alpine treeline
Wang, Yafeng; Pederson, N.; Ellison, A. M.; Buckley, Hannah L.; Case, Bradley S.; Liang, E. L.; Camarero, J. J.
The most widespread response to global warming among alpine treeline ecotones is not an upward shift, but an increase in tree density. However, the impact of increasing density on interactions among trees at treeline is not well understood. Here, we test if treeline densification induced by climatic warming leads to increasing intraspecific competition. We mapped and measured the size and age of Smith fir trees growing in two treelines located in the southeastern Tibetan Plateau. We used spatial point-pattern and codispersion analyses to describe the spatial association and covariation among seedlings, juveniles, and adults grouped in 30-yr age classes from the 1860s to the present. Effects of competition on tree height and regeneration were inferred from bivariate mark-correlations. Since the 1950s, a rapid densification occurred at both sites in response to climatic warming. Competition between adults and juveniles or seedlings at small scales intensified as density increased. Encroachment negatively affected height growth and further reduced recruitment around mature trees. We infer that tree recruitment at the studied treelines was more cold-limited prior to 1950 and shifted to a less temperature-constrained regime in response to climatic warming. Therefore, the ongoing densification and encroachment of alpine treelines could alter the way climate drives their transitions toward subalpine forests.... [Show full abstract]