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Research article2014Peer reviewedOpen access

Soil characteristics mediate the distribution and response of boreal trees to climatic variability

Gewehr, Sylvie; Drobyshev, Igor; Berninger, Frank; Bergeron, Yves


We studied the effects of the soil organic layer (SOL) accumulation on growth and distribution of black spruce (Picea mariana (Mill.) BSP) and trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx.) within the Quebec Clay Belt. At the landscape scale, spruce was present over a much larger gradient in SOL thickness (similar to 1 to 100 cm) than aspen (similar to 1 to 30 cm). For trees between 60 and 100 years old, SOL thickness had no effect on the basal area increment (BAI) of spruce but showed a strong and negative correlation with BAI in aspen. Radial growth of black spruce was favored by higher precipitation in June of the previous growing season, higher temperatures in early winter and in spring, and by low temperatures in summer. SOL thickness had statistically significant but moderate effects on the climate-growth relationships in spruce, apparently affecting root insulation during the dormant period and water availability during the growing period. In aspen, current-year June temperature was the most important factor positively correlated with growth. The SOL thickness affected the relationship between the aspen growth and (i) January temperature and (ii) June-August monthly drought code. We predict that the response of black spruce to climate change should be rather uniform across the study region, while the response of aspen is likely to be strongly mediated by SOL thickness.


climate change; biotic interactions; boreal ecosystems; limiting factors; succession; dendroclimatic analyses

Published in

Canadian Journal of Forest Research
2014, Volume: 44, number: 5, pages: 487–498
Publisher: NRC Research Press (Canadian Science Publishing)

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