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Holocene Dynamics of Treeline Forests in the Sierra Nevada

Andrea H. Lloyd and Lisa J. Graumlich
Ecology
Vol. 78, No. 4 (Jun., 1997), pp. 1199-1210
Published by: Wiley
DOI: 10.2307/2265869
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2265869
Page Count: 12
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Holocene Dynamics of Treeline Forests in the Sierra Nevada
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Abstract

We reconstructed a 3500-yr history of fluctuations in treeline elevation and tree abundance in the southern Sierra Nevada. Treeline elevation was higher than at present throughout most of the last 3500 yr. Declines in the abundance of live trees and treeline elevation occurred twice during the last 1000 yr: from 950 to 550 yr BP and from 450 to 50 yr BP. The earlier decline coincided with a period of warm temperatures (relative to present) in which at least two severe, multidecadal droughts occurred. This decline was apparently triggered by an increase in the rate of adult mortality in treeline forests. The more recent decline occurred during a period of low temperatures lasting for up to 400 yr and was apparently caused by a sustained failure of regeneration in combination with an increased rate of adult mortality. The apparent past importance of precipitation in controlling the position and structure of the treeline ecotone suggests that climatic controls over treeline may be more complex than previously thought. In the Sierra Nevada, responses of high-elevation forests to future warming may depend strongly on water supply.

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