Climate and competition are often presented from two opposing views of the dominant driver of individual tree growth and species distribution in temperate forests, such as those in the eastern United States. Previous studies have provided abundant evidence indicating that both factors influence tree growth, and we argue that these effects are not independent of one another and rather that interactions between climate, competition, and size best describe tree growth. To illustrate this point, we describe the growth responses of five common eastern tree species to interacting effects of temperature, precipitation, competition, and individual size using maximum likelihood estimation. Models that explicitly include interactions among these four factors explained over half of the variance in annual growth for four out of five species using annual climate. Expanding temperature and precipitation analyses to include seasonal interactions resulted in slightly improved models with a mean R2 of 0.61 (SD 0.10). Growth responses to individual factors as well their interactions varied greatly among species. For example, growth sensitivity to temperature for Quercus rubra increased with maximum annual precipitation, but other species showed no change in sensitivity or slightly reduced annual growth. Our results also indicate that three-way interactions among individual stem size, competition, and temperature may determine which of the five co-occurring species in our study could have the highest growth rate in a given year. Continued consideration and quantification of interactions among climate, competition, and individual-based characteristics are likely to increase understanding of key biological processes such as tree growth. Greater parameterization of interactions between traditionally segregated factors such as climate and competition may also help build a framework to reconcile drivers of individual-based processes such as growth with larger-scale patterns of species distribution.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics