Journal of Mountain Science

Climate–growth relationship stability of Picea crassifolia on an elevation gradient, Qilian Mountain, Northwest China

Abstract Climate affects Picea crassifolia growth and climate change will lead to changes in the climate–growth relationship (i.e., the “divergence” phenomenon). However, standardization methods can also change the understanding of such a relationship. We tested the stability of this relationship by considering several variables: 1) two periods (1952–1980 and 1981–2009), 2) three elevations (2700, 3000, and 3300 m), and 3) chronologies detrended using cubic splines with two different flexibilities. With increasing elevation, the climatic factor limiting the radial growth of Picea crassifolia shifted from precipitation to temperature. At the elevation of 2700 m, the relationship between radial growth and mean temperature of the previous December changed so that the more flexible spline had a greater precipitation signal. At the elevation of 3000 m, positive correlation of radial growth with mean temperature and precipitation in September of the previous year became more significant. At the elevation of 3300 m, positive correlation between radial growth and precipitation of the current summer and the previous spring and autumn was no longer significant, whereas the positive correlation between radial growth and temperature of the current spring and summer strengthened. The detrending with the most flexible spline enhanced the precipitation signal at 2700 m, while that with the least flexible spline enhanced the temperature signal at 3300 m. All results indicated that the divergence phenomenon was affected by the climatic signals in the chronologies and that it was most dependent on the detrending method. This suggests it is necessary to select a suitable spline bootstrap for studies of growth divergence phenomena.

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