Aim The objectives of this study were: (1) to compare radial growth patterns between white oak (Quercus alba L.) and northern red oak (Quercus rubra L.) growing at the northern distribution limit of white oak; and (2) to assess if the radial growth of white oak at its northern distribution limit is controlled by cold temperature.
Location The study was conducted in three regions of the Ottawa valley in southern Québec. All stands selected were located at the northern limit of distribution of Q. alba.
Methods Twelve mixed red and white oak stands were sampled and increment cores were extracted for radial growth analyses. For each oak species, 12 chronologies were derived from tree-ring measurement (residual chronologies). Principal components analysis and redundancy analysis were used to highlight the difference between radial growth in both species and to determine their radial growth–climate association.
Results There was little difference between the radial growth of each species; Q. alba, however, exhibits more year-to-year variation in growth than Q. rubra. More than 65% of the variance in radial growth was shared among sites and species. Both species showed a similar response to climate, which suggested that the limit of distribution of Q. alba might not be determined by effects on growth. Both species had a classic response to climate and drought in the early growing season.
Main conclusions The northern distribution limit of Q. alba does not appear to be directly controlled by effects on growth processes as indicated by the similarities in radial growth and response to climate between the two species. The location of the stands on southern aspects suggested that cold temperature could have been a major factor controlling the distribution limit of Q. alba. However, it is speculated that stands growing on southern aspects may be more prone to forest fires or to drought, which would favour the maintenance and establishment of oaks, and of Q. alba in particular. Models relating the northern distribution limits of species to broad climate parameters like annual mean temperature will need to be reviewed to incorporate more biologically relevant information. Such assessments will in turn provide better estimates of the effect of climate changes on species distribution.