Is it getting hot in here? Adjustment of hydraulic parameters in six boreal and temperate tree species after 5 years of warming

Katherine A. McCulloh, Joshua Petitmermet, Artur Stefanski, Karen E. Rice, Roy L. Rich, Rebecca A Montgomery, Peter B Reich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Global temperatures (T) are rising, and for many plant species, their physiological response to this change has not been well characterized. In particular, how hydraulic parameters may change has only been examined experimentally for a few species. To address this, we measured characteristics of the hydraulic architecture of six species growing in ambient T and ambient +3.4 °C T plots in two experimentally warmed forest sites in Minnesota. These sites are at the temperate–boreal ecotone, and we measured three species from each forest type. We hypothesized that relative to boreal species, temperate species near their northern range border would increase xylem conduit diameters when grown under elevated T. We also predicted a continuum of responses among wood types, with conduit diameter increases correlating with increases in the complexity of wood structure. Finally, we predicted that increases in conduit diameter and specific hydraulic conductivity would positively affect photosynthetic rates and growth. Our results generally supported our hypotheses, and conduit diameter increased under elevated T across all species, although this pattern was driven predominantly by three species. Two of these species were temperate angiosperms, but one was a boreal conifer, contrary to predictions. We observed positive relationships between the change in specific hydraulic conductivity and both photosynthetic rate (P = 0.080) and growth (P = 0.012). Our results indicate that species differ in their ability to adjust hydraulically to increases in T. Specifically, species with more complex xylem anatomy, particularly those individuals growing near the cooler edge of their range, appeared to be better able to increase conduit diameters and specific hydraulic conductivity, which permitted increases in photosynthesis and growth. Our data support results that indicate individual's ability to physiologically adjust is related to their location within their species range, and highlight that some wood types may adjust more easily than others.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4124-4133
Number of pages10
JournalGlobal change biology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 John Wiley & Sons Ltd


  • Boreal Forest Warming at an Ecotone in Danger
  • boreal–temperate ecotone
  • conduit diameter
  • elevated temperature
  • hydraulic conductivity
  • saplings


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