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Trajectories for Pinus aristata genetic lineages in a changing climate

March, 2018

High-elevation bristlecone pines at Bristlecone Park, Colorado (3676 m elevation).
High-elevation bristlecone pines at Bristlecone Park, Colorado (3676 m elevation). Photo by JD Coop.
Like many other high elevation alpine tree species, Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine (Pinus aristata Engelm.) may be particularly vulnerable to climate change. To evaluate its potential vulnerability to shifts in climate, we defined the suitable climate space for each of four genetic lineages of bristlecone pine and for other subalpine tree species in close proximity to bristlecone pine forests. Measuring changes in the suitable climate space for lineage groups is an important step beyond models that assume species are genetically homogenous. The suitable climate space for bristlecone pine in the year 2090 is projected to decline by 74 percent and the proportional distribution of suitable climate space for genetic lineages shifts toward those associated with warmer and wetter conditions. These shifts have implications for changes in fire regimes, vulnerability to pest and pathogens, and altered carbon dynamics across the southern Rockies, which may reduce the likelihood of bristlecone pine trees achieving exceptional longevity in the future. While the southern lineages may be more likely to persist and therefore present opportunities for proactive management (e.g., assisted migration) to maintain subalpine forest ecosystem services in a warmer world, our findings also imply heightened conservation concern for vulnerable northern lineages facing range contractions.


Bristlecone pine
Project Contact: 

Principal Investigators:
Sparkle Malone - formerly RMRS