Because species affect ecosystem functioning, understanding migration processes is a key component of predicting future ecosystem responses to climate change. This study provides evidence of range expansion under current climatic conditions of an indigenous species with strong ecosystem effects. Surveys of stands along the northern distribution limit of lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta var. latifolia) in central Yukon Territory, Canada showed consistent increases in pine dominance following fire. These patterns differed strongly from those observed at sites where pine has been present for several thousand years. Differences in species thinning rates are unlikely to account for the observed increases in pine dominance. Rates of pine regeneration at its range limits were equivalent to those of spruce, indicating a capacity for rapid local population expansion. The study also found no evidence of strong climatic limitation of pine population growth at the northern distribution limit. We interpret these data as evidence of current pine expansion at its range limits and conclude that the northern distribution of lodgepole pine is not in equilibrium with current climate. This study has implications for our ability to predict vegetation response to climate change when populations may lag in their response to climate.
Global Change Biology – Wiley
Published: Oct 1, 2003
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