Russia's boreal (taiga) biome will likely contract sharply and shift northward in response to 21st century climatic change, yet few studies have examined plant response to climatic variability along the northern margin. We quantified climate dynamics, trends in plant growth, and growth–climate relationships across the tundra shrublands and Cajander larch (Larix cajanderi Mayr.) woodlands of the Kolyma river basin (657 000 km2) in northeastern Siberia using satellite-derived normalized difference vegetation indices (NDVI), tree ring-width measurements, and climate data. Mean summer temperatures (Ts) increased 1.0 °C from 1938 to 2009, though there was no trend (P > 0.05) in growing year precipitation or climate moisture index (CMIgy). Mean summer NDVI (NDVIs) increased significantly from 1982 to 2010 across 20% of the watershed, primarily in cold, shrub-dominated areas. NDVIs positively correlated (P < 0.05) with Ts across 56% of the watershed (r = 0.52 ± 0.09, mean ± SD), principally in cold areas, and with CMIgy across 9% of the watershed (r = 0.45 ± 0.06), largely in warm areas. Larch ring-width measurements from nine sites revealed that year-to-year (i.e., high-frequency) variation in growth positively correlated (P < 0.05) with June temperature (r = 0.40) and prior summer CMI (r = 0.40) from 1938 to 2007. An unexplained multi-decadal (i.e., low-frequency) decline in annual basal area increment (BAI) occurred following the mid-20th century, but over the NDVI record there was no trend in mean BAI (P > 0.05), which significantly correlated with NDVIs (r = 0.44, P < 0.05, 1982–2007). Both satellite and tree-ring analyses indicated that plant growth was constrained by both low temperatures and limited moisture availability and, furthermore, that warming enhanced growth. Impacts of future climatic change on forests near treeline in Arctic Russia will likely be influenced by shifts in both temperature and moisture, which implies that projections of future forest distribution and productivity in this area should take into account the interactions of energy and moisture limitations.
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