Competitive status of red spruce (Picea rubens) and Fraser fir (Abies fraseri) at ecotonal transitions in southern Appalachian sky islands

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Virginia Tech


Southern Appalachian spruce-fir sky islands are globally threatened, boreal relict forests where red spruce (Picea rubens) and Fraser fir (Abies fraseri) are dominant. Fraser fir dominates at the highest elevations with spruce-fir and spruce-dominated stands at middle elevations and hardwoods associating at lower elevations. A primary concern is encroachment of hardwoods upslope as climate change-driven milder temperatures and high precipitation confine spruce-fir forests to even higher elevations. We performed a dendrochronological analysis of growth rates in red spruce, Fraser fir, and competing hardwoods between cover types and slope aspects at six sky islands. We created linear models to test effects of aspect, cover type, and year on basal area growth measurements of red spruce, Fraser fir, and hardwoods to assess effects of competition. Growth rates were significantly affected by species, aspect, cover type, and year, and generally increased over time. Red spruce growth rates varied by combination of aspect and cover type but were greater than those of hardwoods on northern and southern aspects. Fraser fir growth rates were negative on southern-facing fir-dominated stands but increased in all other stands with the highest growth rates found in fir-dominated stands. The differences we report by cover type and aspect could help conservation practitioners prioritize treatment locations to improve climate resiliency.



aspect, basal area increment, climate change, cold-adapted conifers, cover type