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Braking effect of climate and topography on global change-induced upslope forest expansion

Abstract

Forests are expected to expand into alpine areas due to global climate change. It has recently been shown that temperature alone cannot realistically explain this process and that upslope tree advance in a warmer scenario may depend on the availability of sites with adequate geomorphic/topographic characteristics. Here, we show that, besides topography (slope and aspect), climate itself can produce a braking effect on the upslope advance of subalpine forests and that tree limit is influenced by non-linear and non-monotonic contributions of the climate variables which act upon treeline upslope advance with varying relative strengths. Our results suggest that global climate change impact on the upslope advance of subalpine forests should be interpreted in a more complex way where climate can both speed up and slow down the process depending on complex patterns of contribution from each climate and non-climate variable.

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Acknowledgments

JMA thanks Carl Tryggers Stiftelse for financial support. The authors declare no conflict of interests. We thank two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments that improved this manuscript.

Author contributions

JMA and AF designed the study and wrote the paper. AF performed the GIS and modelling work.

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Correspondence to Juha M. Alatalo.

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Alatalo, J.M., Ferrarini, A. Braking effect of climate and topography on global change-induced upslope forest expansion. Int J Biometeorol 61, 541–548 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00484-016-1231-y

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Keywords

  • Alpine areas
  • Climate change
  • Flex points
  • Response curves
  • Subalpine vegetation
  • Treeline rise
  • Treeline shift model