Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) and foxtail pine (Pinus balfouriana) are valuable paleoclimate resources due to their longevity and climatic sensitivity of their annually-resolved rings. Treeline research has shown that growing season temperatures limit tree growth at and just below the upper treeline. In the Great Basin, the presence of precisely dated remnant wood above modern treeline shows that the treeline ecotone shifts at centennial timescales tracking long-term changes in climate; in some areas during the Holocene climatic optimum treeline was 100 meters higher than at present. Regional treeline position models built exclusively from climate data may identify characteristics specific to Great Basin treelines and inform future physiological studies, providing a measure of climate sensitivity specific to bristlecone and foxtail pine treelines. This study implements a topoclimatic analysis—using topographic variables to explain patterns in surface temperatures across diverse mountainous terrain—to model the treeline position of three semi-arid bristlecone and/or foxtail pine treelines in the Great Basin as a function of growing season length and mean temperature calculated from in situ measurements. Results indicate: (1) the treeline sites used in this study are similar to other treelines globally, and require a growing season length of between 147–153 days and average temperature ranging from 5.5°C–7.2°C, (2) site-specific treeline position models may be improved through topoclimatic analysis and (3) treeline position in the Great Basin is likely out of equilibrium with the current climate, indicating a possible future upslope shift in treeline position.
Environmental Research Letters
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Bruening, Jamis M.; Tran, Tyler J.; Bunn, Andrew G.; Weill, Stuart B.; and Salzer, Matthew W., "Fine-scale Modeling of Bristlecone Pine Treeline Position in the Great Basin, USA" (2017). Environmental Sciences Faculty Publications. 41.
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