The phenology of diameter-growth cessation in trees will likely play a key role in mediating species and ecosystem responses to climate change. A common expectation is that warming will delay cessation, but the environmental and genetic influences on this process are poorly understood. We modeled the effects of temperature, photoperiod and seed-source climate on diameter-growth cessation timing in coast Douglas-fir (an ecologically and economically vital tree) using high-frequency growth measurements across broad environmental gradients for a range of genotypes from different seed-sources.
Our model suggests that cool temperatures or short photoperiods can induce cessation in the autumn. At cool locations (high latitude and elevation), cessation seems to be induced primarily by low temperatures in early autumn (under relatively long photoperiods), so warming will likely delay cessation and extend the growing season. But at warm locations (low latitude or elevation), cessation seems to be induced primarily by short photoperiods later in autumn, so warming will likely lead to only slight extensions of the growing season, reflecting photoperiod limitations on phenological shifts. Trees from seed sources experiencing frequent frosts in autumn or early winter tended to cease growth earlier in the autumn, potentially as an adaptation to avoid frost. Thus, gene flow into populations in warm locations with little frost will likely have limited potential to delay mean cessation dates because these populations already cease growth relatively late. In addition, data from an abnormal heat wave suggested that very high temperatures during long photoperiods in early summer might also induce cessation. Climate change could make these conditions more common in warm locations, leading to much earlier cessation. Thus, photoperiod cues, patterns of genetic variation and summer heat waves could limit the capacity of coast Douglas-fir to extend its growing season in response to climate change in the warm parts of its range.