Climate-growth relationships along a black spruce toposequence in interior Alaska

Despite its wide geographic distribution and important role in boreal forest fire regimes, little is known about the climate-growth relationships of black spruce (Picea mariana [Mill.] B.S.P.). We used site- and tree-level analyses to evaluate the radial growth responses to climate of black spruce growing on a north-facing toposequence in interior Alaska for the period A.D. 1949-2010. At the site level, correlations between growth and climate were negative for temperature and positive for precipitation. The signs and strengths of these correlations varied seasonally and over time. These site-level differences probably arise from tree interactions with non-climatic factors that vary with topography and include active layer thickness, soil temperature, solar radiation, microsite, and tree architecture. We infer that black spruce suffers from drought stress during warm, dry summers and that the causes of this moisture stress relate to topography and the seasonality of drought. Tree-level analyses reveal that divergent inter-tree growth responses among individual trees at the same site also occur, with the lower slope positions having the greatest frequency of mixed responses. The overall complexity of black spruce’s climate-growth relationships reflects the plastic growth strategy that enables this species to tolerate harsh, high-latitude conditions across a transcontinental range.


Wolken, J.M., Mann, D.H., Grant, T.A., III., Lloyd, A.H., Rupp, T.S., and Hollingsworth, T.N.. 2016. Climate-growth relationships along a black spruce toposequence in interior Alaska. Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research. 48(4): 637-652. DOI: doi: