Future Alpine Colonization by Limber Pine More Likely than by Engelmann Spruce

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Alpine treelines are expected to shift upward in elevation and latitude as a result of climate change, yet this expansion requires favorable conditions for seed germination and successful seedling establishment. 

Researchers tested how neighboring resident plants in alpine meadows of Colorado influenced the ability of Engelmann spruce and limber pine to establish above their ranges, in the alpine meadows. They applied heat and water to certain plots and examined how a neighboring alpine plant – Rocky Mountain snowlover – affected tree establishment, and, for comparison, how snowlover was affected by neighboring plant removal. Engelmann spruce seedlings showed lower survival and expansion potential than limber pines. Engelmann spruce required moist conditions to expand its range that were facilitated by neighboring snowlover providing shade or buffering surface temperatures. Removing Rocky Mountain snowlover did not affect limber pine establishment. Contrary to expectations, Rocky Mountain snowlover survival was reduced without neighbors near its low elevation range limit. Overall results imply likely range expansion by limber pine with consequences for alpine plant diversity and ecosystem function. 

Jabis, M.D., Germino, M.J., Kueppers, L.M., 2020, Colonisation of the alpine tundra by trees - Alpine neighbors assist late-seral but not early-seral conifer seedlings: Plant Ecology & Diversity, https://doi.org/10.1080/17550874.2020.1762134 

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Date published: November 16, 2017
Status: Active

Plant-Soil-Environment Laboratory (FRESC)

We produce basic and applied science needed to manage landscapes in ways that make them resistant and resilient to stressors such as wildfire, exotic plant invasions, drought, and temperature extremes. These stressors impact ecosystem productivity and functioning and pose costly risks to human health and safety in the western United States. We team with other state and federal agencies to find...