An approach to quantify climate-productivity relationships: an example from a widespread Nothofagus forest


Unique combinations of geographic and environmental conditions make quantifying the importance of factors that influence forest productivity difficult. I aimed to model the height growth of dominant Nothofagus alpina trees in temperate forests of Chile, as a proxy for forest productivity, by building a dynamic model that accounts for topography, habitat type, and climate conditions. Using stem analysis data of 169 dominant trees sampled throughout south-central Chile, I estimated growth model parameters using a nonlinear mixed-effects framework that takes into account the hierarchical structure of the data. Based on the proposed model, I used a system-dynamics approach to analyze growth rates as a function of topographic, habitat type, and climatic variability. I found that the interaction between aspect, slope, and elevation, as well as the effect of habitat type, play an essential role in determining tree height growth rates of N. alpina. Furthermore, the precipitation in the warmest quarter, precipitation seasonality, and annual mean temperature are critical climatic drivers of forest productivity. Given a forecasted climate condition for the region by 2100, where precipitation seasonality and mean annual temperature increase by 10% and 1 Celsius degree, respectively, and precipitation in the warmest quarter decreases by 10 mm, I predict a reduction of 1.4 m in height growth of 100-yr-old dominant trees. This study shows that the sensitivity of N. alpina-dominated forests to precipitation and temperature patterns could lead to a reduction of tree height growth rates as a result of climate change, suggesting a decrease in carbon sequestration too. By implementing a system dynamics approach, I provide a new perspective on climate-productivity relationships, bettering the quantitative understanding of forest ecosystem dynamics under climate change. The results highlight that while temperature rising might favor forest growth, the decreasing in both amount and distribution within a year of precipitation can be even more critical to reduce forest productivity.

Ecological Applications, 31(4) e02285.