A Warming-Induced Biome Shift Detected in Tree Growth of Mountain Hemlock [Tsuga Mertensiana (Bong.) Carrière] Along the Gulf of Alaska

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Recent observations of divergence between tree growth at high-latitude sites and temperature, as well as the decline of yellow cedar [Callitropsis nootkatensis (D. Don) Oerst. ex D.P. Little] in southeast Alaska due to warming, emphasize a need to investigate nonstationary climate response of Alaskan coastal forests to warming in other tree species. Comparison of annual tree growth in mountain hemlock [Tsuga mertensiana (Bong.) Carrière] to mean monthly temperature and precipitation data from Sitka, Alaska, from A.D. 1830s to 1990s along an elevational transect reveals nonstationarity in tree growth response to climate that suggests an ongoing biome shift. We observe a marked weakening in the positive relationship between annual growth and warmer growth season temperatures at low-elevation hemlock sites, and a concurrent increase in growth and sensitivity at higher elevations coupled with increased correlation between growth and April precipitation at all sites along our transects. As previously observed with yellow cedar, the mechanism of the hemlock biome shift may be due to an increased susceptibility of roots to damage from late frosts resulting from earlier seasonal loss of protective snowpack.

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