FOREST ECOLOGY: Northeastern North America as a potential refugium for boreal forests in a warming climate

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Abstract

High precipitation in boreal northeastern North America could help forests withstand the expected temperature-driven increase in evaporative demand, but definitive evidence is lacking. Using a network of tree-ring collections from 16,450 stands across 583,000 km2 of boreal forests in Quebec, Canada, we observe a latitudinal shift in the correlation of black spruce growth with temperature and reduced precipitation, from negative south of 49°N to largely positive to the north of that latitude. Our results suggest that the positive effect of a warmer climate on growth rates and growing season length north of 49°N outweighs the potential negative effect of lower water availability. Unlike the central and western portions of the continent's boreal forest, northeastern North America may act as a climatic refugium in a warmer climate.

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