COS 21-9
Winter climate limits subantarctic low forest growth and establishment

Tuesday, August 12, 2014: 10:50 AM
308, Sacramento Convention Center
Melanie A. Harsch, Biology Department, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Matt McGlone, Landcare Research, Lincoln, New Zealand
Janet Wilmshurst, Landcare Research, Lincoln, New Zealand

Campbell Island, an isolated island 600 km south of New Zealand mainland (52°S, 169°E) is oceanic (Conrad Index of Continentality = -5) with small differences between mean summer and winter temperatures. Previous work established the unexpected result that a mean annual climate warming of c. 0.6 oC since the 1940’s has not led to upward movement of the forest limit. Here we explore the relative importance of summer and winter climatic conditions on growth and age-class structure of the treeline forming species, Dracophyllum longifolium and Dracophyllum scoparium over the second half of the 20th century. The relationship between climate and growth and establishment were evaluated using standard dendroecological methods and local climate data from a meteorological station on the island. Growth and establishment were correlated against climate variables and further evaluated within hierarchical regression models to take into account the effect of plot level variables. 


Winter climatic conditions exerted a greater effect on growth and establishment than summer climatic conditions. Establishment is maximized under warm (mean winter temperatures > 7 °C), dry winters (total winter precipitation <400 mm). Growth, on the other hand, is adversely affected by wide winter temperature ranges and increased rainfall. The contrasting effect of winter warmth on growth and establishment suggests that winter temperature affects growth and establishment through differing mechanisms. We propose that milder winters enhance survival of seedlings and, therefore, recruitment, but increases metabolic stress on established plants, resulting in lower growth rates. Future winter warming may therefore have complex effects on plant growth and establishment globally.