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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2023

Forest inventory tree core archive reveals changes in boreal wood traits over seven decades

Bassett, Kelley R.; Ostlund, Lars; Gundale, Michael J.; Fridman, Jonas; Jamtgard, Sandra


Boreal forests play an important role in the global carbon (C) cycle, and there is great interest in understanding how they respond to environmental change, including nitrogen (N) and water limitation, which could impact future forest growth and C storage. Utilizing tree cores archived by the Swedish National Forest Inventory, we measured stemwood traits, including stable N and C isotope composition which provides valuable information related to N availability and water stress, respectively, as well as N and C content, and C/N ratio over 1950-2017 in two central Swedish counties covering an area of ca. 55,000 sq. km (n = 1038). We tested the hypothesis that wood traits are changing over time, and that temporal patterns would differ depending on alternative dendrochronological reconstruction methods, i.e. the commonly applied "single tree method" (STM) or a conceptually stronger "multiple tree method" (MTM). Averaged across all MTMs, our data showed that all five wood traits for Picea abies and Pinus sylvestris changed over time. Wood & delta;15N strongly declined, indicating progressive nitrogen limitation. The decline in & delta;13C tracked the known atmospheric & delta;13CO2 signal, suggesting no change in water stress occurred. Additionally, wood N significantly increased, while C and C/N ratios declined over time. Furthermore, wood trait patterns sometimes differed between dendrochronological methods. The most notable difference was for & delta;15N, where the slope was much shallower for the STM compared to MTMs for both species, indicating that mobility of contemporary N is problematic when using the STM, resulting in substantially less sensitivity to detect historical signals. Our study indicates strong temporal changes in boreal wood traits and also indicates that the field of dendroecology should adopt new methods and archiving practices for studying highly mobile element cycles, such as nitrogen, which are critical for understanding environmental change in high latitude ecosystems.


Carbon isotopes; Nitrogen isotopes; Tree rings; Wood traits; Wood carbon content; Isotope natural abundance

Published in

Science of the Total Environment
2023, Volume: 900, article number: 165795
Publisher: ELSEVIER