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    Author(s): Andrea Watts; Sean Cahoon; Patrick Sullivan
    Date: 2020
    Source: Science Findings 230. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 5 p.
    Publication Series: Science Findings
    Station: Pacific Northwest Research Station
    PDF: Download Publication  (5.0 MB)


    In interior Alaska’s 115 million acres of boreal forest, white and black spruce are the dominant tree species. Climate models suggest that the region is becoming warmer and drier, resulting in declining growth of black and white spruce, according to some researchers. These drier conditions also may lead to greater risk of stand-replacing wildfires, resulting in forests dominated by birch and aspen, which are early-successional tree species.

    To compare long-term growth trends of the dominant coniferous and deciduous tree species, a team of researchers with the USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station and the University of Alaska Anchorage analyzed tree cores collected from the Tanana Valley and measured tree-ring widths of these four tree species over the past 150 years. They also compared growth against monthly temperature and precipitation data to determine if there is a correlation between climate and growth.

    The team found that white and black spruce have not experienced as rapid a growth decline as earlier studies suggested; instead, their annual growth remains near the long-term mean. Of the four species examined, aspen showed the greatest recent growth decline, likely reflecting a widespread insect outbreak. Among the climate variables that will affect the future growth of these species, summer rainfall was identified as a significant factor.

    Publication Notes

    • Visit PNW's Publication Request Page to request a hard copy of this publication.
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    • This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.


    Watts, Andrea; Cahoon, Sean; Sullivan, Patrick. 2020. Using the past to inform the future: Alaska’s changing boreal forest from a tree-ring perspective. Science Findings 230. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 5 p.


    Boreal forest, climate change, dendrochronology, forest inventory and analysis, FIA.

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