Tree and forest functioning in response to global warming


Author for correspondence: Henrik Saxe Tel: +45 35283632 Fax: +45 45763233


Although trees have responded to global warming in the past – to temperatures higher than they are now – the rate of change predicted in the 21st century is likely to be unprecedented. Greenhouse gas emissions could cause a 3–6°C increase in mean land surface temperature at high and temperate latitudes. Despite this, few experiments have isolated the effects of temperature for this scenario on trees and forests. This review focuses on tree and forest responses at boreal and temperate latitudes, ranging from the cellular to the ecosystem level. Adaptation to varying temperatures revolves around the trade-off between utilizing the full growing season and minimizing frost damage through proper timing of hardening in autumn and dehardening in spring. But the evolutionary change in these traits must be sufficiently rapid to compensate for the temperature changes. Many species have a positive response to increased temperature – but how close are we to the optima? Management is critical for a positive response of forest growth to a warmer climate, and selection of the best species for the new conditions will be of vital importance.