Stand history is more important
than climate in controlling red
maple (Acer rubrum L.) growth at
its northern distribution limit in
western Quebec, Canada.
Yun Zhang, Yves Bergeron, Xiu-hai Zhao, Igor Drobyshev.
Aims We examined growth of red maple (Acer rubrum L.) to evaluate environmental controls of its northern distributional limit in Eastern North America and its potential response to future climate change.
Methods We collected growth data from nine sites located along a 300-km transect (47–49°N), which included frontier population of red maple and covered three bioclimatic domains in western Quebec. We analyzed three growth variables: growth rates during the first 30 years of maple lifespan, cumulative basal area increment (BAI) over the most recent decade (2000–09) and annual growth rate over the whole tree lifespan ranging from 58 to 112 years. We also examined growth sensitivity to climate by using response function analysis.
Important Findings Three different proxies of maple absolute growth (initial growth rate, BAI during 2000–09 and mean diameter growth rate) indicated a better growth with an increase in latitude. We speculate that stand history effectively overrode the direct effects of colder climate on maple growth along the S-N gradient. Regeneration of maple in the southern sites likely occurred in canopy gaps, whereas in the north it was contingent upon large disturbances such as stand-replacing fires, which apparently provided more favorable light environment for maple growth than canopy gaps. The annual growth variability, which reflects effects of annual weather on growth and is largely independent from the absolute growth rate, was significantly affected by monthly climate, suggesting a positive effect of higher summer temperature in the northern part of the transect (48–49°N) and a negative effect of summer drought in the south (47–48°N). In the future, the natural and human disturbance regimes will be dominant controls of the actual biomass productivity of red maple at the northern limit of its present distribution range. Direct effects of climate on maple growth would likely be less important in this context, and will likely entail negative effect of increased summer drought in the southern part of the study area and positive effects of increased temperatures in the north.