Differential declines in Alaskan boreal forest vitality related to climate and competition

Anna T. Trugman, David Medvigy, William R.L. Anderegg, Stephen Wilson Pacala

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Rapid warming and changes in water availability at high latitudes alter resource abundance, tree competition, and disturbance regimes. While these changes are expected to disrupt the functioning of boreal forests, their ultimate implications for forest composition are uncertain. In particular, recent site-level studies of the Alaskan boreal forest have reported both increases and decreases in productivity over the past few decades. Here, we test the idea that variations in Alaskan forest growth and mortality rates are contingent on species composition. Using forest inventory measurements and climate data from plots located throughout interior and south-central Alaska, we show significant growth and mortality responses associated with competition, midsummer vapor pressure deficit, and increased growing season length. The governing climate and competition processes differed substantially across species. Surprisingly, the most dramatic climate response occurred in the drought tolerant angiosperm species, trembling aspen, and linked high midsummer vapor pressure deficits to decreased growth and increased insect-related mortality. Given that species composition in the Alaskan and western Canadian boreal forests is projected to shift toward early-successional angiosperm species due to fire regime, these results underscore the potential for a reduction in boreal productivity stemming from increases in midsummer evaporative demand.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1097-1107
Number of pages11
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • General Environmental Science


  • Alaska
  • boreal forest
  • climate change
  • drought
  • forest inventory
  • growth decline
  • insect-induced mortality
  • terrestrial carbon cycle
  • vapor pressure deficit


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