Non-uniform growth dynamics of a dominant boreal tree species (Picea mariana) in the face of rapid climate change

Publication: Canadian Journal of Forest Research
15 September 2020


Northwestern Canada’s boreal forest has experienced rapid warming, drying, and changes to permafrost, yet the growth responses and mechanisms driving productivity have been under-studied at broad scales. Forest responses are largely driven by black spruce (Picea mariana (Mill.) B.S.P.) — the region’s most widespread and dominant tree. We collected tree ring samples from four black spruce-dominated sites across 15° of latitude, spanning gradients in climate and permafrost. We investigated (i) differences in growth patterns, (ii) variations in climatic drivers of growth, and (iii) trends in water use efficiency (WUE) through 13C isotope analysis from 1945 to 2006. We found positive growth trends at all sites except those at mid-latitude, where rapid permafrost thaw drove declines. Annual growth was lowest at the tree limit site and highest at the tree line. Climatic drivers of these growth patterns varied; positive growth responses at the northerly sites were associated with warmer winters, whereas Δ13C trends and climate-growth responses at mid-latitude sites indicated that growth was limited by moisture availability. Δ13C signatures indicated increased WUE at the southernmost site, with no significant trends at northern sites. These results suggest that warming will increase the growth of trees at the northern extent of black spruce, but southerly areas may face drought stress if precipitation does not balance evapotranspiration.


La forêt boréale du nord-ouest du Canada a connu un réchauffement, un assèchement et des changements rapides dans le pergélisol mais les réactions de la croissance et des mécanismes responsables de la productivité ont été peu étudiés à grande échelle. Les réactions de la forêt sont largement déterminées par l’épinette noire (Picea mariana (Mill.) B.S.P.), l’espèce d’arbre la plus dominante et la plus répandue dans cette région. Nous avons recueilli des échantillons de cernes annuels dans quatre stations dominées par l’épinette noire et réparties sur 15° de latitude avec des gradients en ce qui a trait au climat et au pergélisol. Nous avons étudié (i) les différences dans les patrons de croissance, (ii) les variations dans les facteurs climatiques qui influencent la croissance, et (iii) les tendances dans l’efficacité en matière d’utilisation de l’eau (EUE) par le biais de l’analyse isotopique du carbone (13C) de 1945 à 2006. Nous avons observé des tendances de croissance positives dans toutes les stations à l’exception de la latitude moyenne où le dégel rapide du pergélisol causait du dépérissement. La croissance annuelle était la plus faible dans la station située à la limite des arbres et la plus élevée à la limite forestière. Les facteurs climatiques responsables de ces patrons de croissance variaient; des réactions positives de la croissance dans les stations septentrionales étaient associées à des hivers plus chauds, alors que les tendances de Δ13C et les réactions de la croissance au climat dans les stations situées à la latitude moyenne indiquaient que la disponibilité de l’humidité limitait la croissance. Selon la signature de Δ13C, l’EUE augmentait dans la station la plus méridionale alors qu’on ne décelait pas de tendances significatives dans les stations septentrionales. Ces résultats indiquent que le réchauffement augmentera la croissance des arbres à la limite septentrionale de l’épinette noire mais que les régions plus au sud pourraient faire face à un stress causé par la sécheresse si la précipitation n’arrive pas à équilibrer l’évapotranspiration. [Traduit par la Rédaction]

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cover image Canadian Journal of Forest Research
Canadian Journal of Forest Research
Volume 51Number 4April 2021
Pages: 565 - 572


Received: 1 May 2020
Accepted: 27 August 2020
Published online: 15 September 2020


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Key Words

  1. Picea mariana
  2. black spruce
  3. dendrochronology
  4. stable carbon isotope
  5. climate warming


  1. Picea mariana
  2. épinette noire
  3. dendrochronologie
  4. isotope stable du carbone
  5. réchauffement climatique



Anastasia E. Sniderhan
Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, Wilfrid Laurier University, 75 University Avenue West, Waterloo, ON N2L 3C5, Canada.
Department of Biology, Wilfrid Laurier University, 75 University Avenue West, Waterloo, ON N2L 3C5 Canada.
Steven D. Mamet
Department of Soil Science, University of Saskatchewan, 51 Campus Drive, Saskatoon, SK S7N 5A8, Canada.
Jennifer L. Baltzer
Department of Biology, Wilfrid Laurier University, 75 University Avenue West, Waterloo, ON N2L 3C5 Canada.


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