Climatic Change

, Volume 114, Issue 3–4, pp 651–666 | Cite as

Fading temperature sensitivity of Alpine tree growth at its Mediterranean margin and associated effects on large-scale climate reconstructions

  • Ulf Büntgen
  • David Frank
  • Thomas Neuenschwander
  • Jan Esper


A millennium-long tree-ring width chronology of living and dead larch (Larix decidua Mill.) specimens from the Maritime French Alps was introduced 35 years ago. This record has been included in various large-scale temperature reconstructions, though recent analyses revealed only weak associations with regional summer temperatures. Calibration and verification trials against instrumental measurements were, however, limited by the original record’s early ending in 1974. Here we introduce an update of this widely considered chronology until 2007 and back into medieval times. A total of 297 new larch samples from high-elevation settings in the southern French Alps were included, and the combined 398 measurement series allowed effects of tree-ring detrending and chronology development to be explored. Comparisons with meteorological temperature, precipitation and drought indices revealed weak and temporally inconsistent climate sensitivity. To further place these local findings in a biogeographic context, we used >3,000 larch trees from 61 locations across the Alpine arc. This unique network approach confirmed fading temperature sensitivity with decreasing latitude, and thus questioned the overall reliability of ring width-based temperature reconstructions in the Mediterranean region. Our results further emphasize the pending need to develop chronologies from maximum latewood densities and stable isotope ratios across the lower latitudes, and to carefully evaluate ecological site conditions and methodological data restrictions prior to compiling local data into global networks.


Climate Sensitivity Express Population Signal Medieval Climate Anomaly Site Chronology Insect Defoliation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



R. Böhm made the HISTALP data available (Austrian FWF, P16076-N06), and spatial field correlations were generated using the KNMI Climate Explorer ( Supported by the EC project MILLENNIUM (#017008-GOCE), and the SNF through the National Centre for Competence in Climate Research (NCCR-Climate).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ulf Büntgen
    • 1
    • 2
  • David Frank
    • 1
    • 2
  • Thomas Neuenschwander
    • 3
  • Jan Esper
    • 4
  1. 1.Swiss Federal Research Institute WSLBirmensdorfSwitzerland
  2. 2.Oeschger Centre for Climate Change ResearchBernSwitzerland
  3. 3.University of BernBernSwitzerland
  4. 4.Department of GeographyJohannes Gutenberg UniversityMainzGermany

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