Microsites, local features having the potential to alter the environment for seedling regeneration, may help to define likely trends in high-elevation forest regeneration pattern. Although multiple microsites may exist in any alpine treeline ecotone (ATE) on any continent, some microsites appear to enhance density of seedling regeneration better than others. Known seedling regeneration stresses in the ATE include low temperature, low substrate moisture, high radiation, drought, wind, and both high and low snowfall amount. Relationships among various microsite types, annual temperature, annual precipitation, and tree genera groups were assessed by synthesizing 52 studies from 26 countries spanning six continents. By categorization of four main microsite types (convex, concave, object, and wood) by mean annual precipitation and temperature, four major climatic zone associations were distinguished: cold & dry, cold & wet, warm & dry, warm & wet. Successful tree recruitment varied among microsite types and by climatic zones. In general, elevated convex sites and/or decayed wood facilitated earlier snow melt for seedlings located in cold & wet climates with abundant snowfall, depressions or concave sites enhanced summer moisture and protected seedlings from wind chill exposure for seedlings growing in cold & dry locations, and objects protected seedlings from excessive radiation and wind in warm & dry high locations. Our study results suggest that climate change will most benefit seedling regeneration in cold & wet locations and will most limit seedling regeneration in warm & dry locations given likely increases in fire and drought. Study results suggest that high-elevation mountain forests with water-limited growing seasons are likely to experience recruitment declines or, at best, no new recruitment advantage as climate warms. Climate envelope models, generally focusing on adult trees rather than seedling requirements, often assume that a warming climate will move tree species upward. Study results suggest that climate models may benefit from more physically-based considerations of microsites, climate, and current seedling regeneration limitations.
Johnson, Adelaide C.; Yeakley, J. Alan. 2019. Microsites and climate zones: Seedling regeneration in the alpine treeline ecotone worldwide. Forests. 10(10): 864. https://doi.org/10.3390/f10100864.