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Topography influences the distribution of autumn frost damage on trees in a Mediterranean-type Eucalyptus forest

Matusick, G., Ruthrof, K.X., Brouwers, N.C. and Hardy, G.E.St.J. (2014) Topography influences the distribution of autumn frost damage on trees in a Mediterranean-type Eucalyptus forest. Trees, 28 (5). pp. 1449-1462.

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Key message Extreme temperatures are causing forest dieback in a Mediterranean-type forest. Topography and cold-air pooling explain the geographic distribution of frost dieback in susceptible tree species. Alterations to the frequency and intensity of extreme temperatures, predicted with climate change, pose a threat to the health of many forests. Some Mediterranean climate regions are experiencing higher temperature variability, including more extreme low and high temperature events. Following one such low-temperature event in autumn 2012, we conducted landscape- and site-level studies to examine the impact of frost on trees and the interaction between topography, temperature, and dieback in a forest ecosystem in the Mediterranean climate region of southwest Australia. Canopy damage was widespread across the survey area and occurred in distinct patches, with sizes ranging between 4.1 and 2,518.0 ha. In affected forest, Eucalyptus marginata and Corymbia calophylla experienced nearly complete crown dieback, while E. patens and E. wandoo were undamaged. Canopy damage was found more frequently in valleys and lower to mid-slope positions, and site-level studies confirmed that crown dieback generally increased with decreasing elevation. Low temperatures were strongly correlated with elevation along damaged forest transects and cold-air pooling explained the pattern of forest damage. By regressing temperatures from damaged sites against those collected from the nearest meteorological station, projected minimum air temperatures ranged from -0.1 to -2.7 °C at valley bottom when the dieback occurred. Insufficient tissue hardening is suspected to have predisposed trees to this autumn frost. The interaction between shifting temperature regimes with climate change and frost damage is discussed. With continued increases in temperature variability, we can expect to see more temperature-driven disturbance events and associated reductions in forest health.

Publication Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation: Centre of Excellence for Climate Change and Forest and Woodland Health
Publisher: Springer Verlag
Copyright: © 2014 Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.
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