Uncommon Ground


The influence of climate on tree growth

Northern Hemisphere temperature changes estimated from various proxy records shown in blue (Mann et al. 1999). Instrumental data shown in red. Note the large uncertainty (grey area) as you go further back in time.

Ecologists and paleoecologists have used the width of tree rings for years as a way of inferring past climates. In fact, tree ring data were an important component of the proxy data Mann et al. (1998) used when they constructed their famous1 hockey stick representing global surface temperatures over the last millennium. I don’t have anything as earth shattering as a hockey stick to share with you, but I am pleased to report that a paper on which I am a co-author demonstrates how to combine tree ring and growth increment data (with other data) to predict growth of forest trees. Here’s tha abstract and a link to the paper on bioRxiv.


Fusing tree-ring and forest inventory data to infer influences on tree growth

Better understanding and prediction of tree growth is important because of the many ecosystem services provided by forests and the uncertainty surrounding how forests will respond to anthropogenic climate change. With the ultimate goal of improving models of forest dynamics, here we construct a statistical model that combines complementary data sources: tree-ring and forest inventory data. A Bayesian hierarchical model is used to gain inference on the effects of many factors on tree growth (individual tree size, climate, biophysical conditions, stand-level competitive environment, tree-level canopy status, and forest management treatments) using both diameter at breast height (DBH) and tree-ring data. The model consists of two multiple regression models, one each for the two data sources, linked via a constant of proportionality between coefficients that are found in parallel in the two regressions. The model was applied to a dataset developed at a single, well-studied site in the Jemez Mountains of north-central New Mexico, U. S. A. Inferences from the model included positive effects of seasonal precipitation, wetness index, and height ratio, and negative effects of seasonal temperature, southerly aspect and radiation, and plot basal area. Climatic effects inferred by the model compared well to results from a dendroclimatic analysis. Combining the two data sources did not lead to higher predictive accuracy (using the leave-one-out information criterion, LOOIC), either when there was a large number of increment cores (129) or under a reduced data scenario of 15 increment cores. However, there was a clear advantage, in terms of parameter estimates, to the use of both data sources under the reduced data scenario: DBH remeasurement data for ~500 trees substantially reduced uncertainty about non-climate fixed effects on radial increments. We discuss the kinds of research questions that might be addressed when the high-resolution information on climate effects contained in tree rings are combined with the rich metadata on tree- and stand-level conditions found in forest inventories, including carbon accounting and projection of tree growth and forest dynamics under future climate scenarios.