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Some (do not) like it hot: shrub growth is hampered by heat and drought at the alpine treeline in recent decades

Abstract : Premise: Mountain ecosystems are particularly sensitive to climate change. However, only a very small number of studies exist so far using annually resolved records of alpine plant growth spanning the past century. Here we aimed to identify the effects of heat waves and drought, driven by global warming, on annual radial growth of Rhododendron ferrugineum. Methods: We constructed two century‐long shrub ring‐width chronologies from R. ferrugineum individuals on two adjacent, north‐ and west‐facing slopes in the southern French Alps. We analyzed available meteorological data (temperature, precipitation and drought) over the period 1960–2016. Climate–growth relationships were evaluated using bootstrapped correlation functions and structural equation models to identify the effects of rising temperature on shrub growth. Results: Analysis of meteorological variables during 1960–2016 revealed a shift in the late 1980s when heat waves and drought increased in intensity and frequency. In response to these extreme climate events, shrubs have experienced significant changes in their main limiting factors. Between 1960 and 1988, radial growth on both slopes was strongly controlled by the sum of growing degree days during the snow free period. Between 1989 and 2016, August temperature and drought have emerged as the most important. Conclusions: Increasing air temperatures have caused a shift in the growth response of shrubs to climate. The recently observed negative effect of high summer temperature and drought on shrub growth can, however, be buffered by topographic variability, supporting the macro‐ and microrefugia hypotheses.
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Submitted on : Friday, April 3, 2020 - 12:41:48 PM
Last modification on : Tuesday, June 23, 2020 - 3:24:03 PM

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Loïc Francon, Christophe Corona, Irène Till-Bottraud, Bradley Carlson, Markus Stoffel. Some (do not) like it hot: shrub growth is hampered by heat and drought at the alpine treeline in recent decades. American Journal of Botany, Botanical Society of America, In press, ⟨10.1002/ajb2.1459⟩. ⟨hal-02531009⟩

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