Indexed on: 10 Aug '21Published on: 09 Aug '21Published in: Oecologia
In recent decades, climate change has disrupted forest functioning by promoting large-scale mortality events, declines in productivity and reduced regeneration. Understanding the temporal dynamics and spatial extent of these changes is critical given the essential ecosystem services provided by forests. As the most widespread tree species in North America, quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) is well suited for studying the dynamics of tree populations during a period of unprecedented climate change. Synthesizing continent-wide data, we show that mortality rates of mature aspen stems have increased over the past two-to-three decades, while relative gains in aspen basal area have decreased during the same period. Patterns were pervasive across multiple stand size classes and composition types in western North America biomes, suggesting that trends in demographic rates were not simply a reflection of stand development and succession. Our review of the literature revealed that increased aspen mortality and reduced growth rates were most often associated with hotter, drier conditions, whereas reduced recruitment was most often associated with herbivory. Furthermore, interactions between climate and competition, as well as climate and insect herbivory, had important, context-dependent effects on mortality and growth, respectively. Our analyses of aspen across its entire geographic range indicate that this important tree species is experiencing substantial increases in mortality and decreases in population growth rates across multiple biomes. If such trends are not accompanied by increased recruitment, we expect that the reduced dominance of aspen in forests will lead to major declines in the many essential ecosystem services it provides. © 2021. The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature.