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Access Type

Open Access

Document Type


Degree Program

Environmental Conservation

Degree Type

Master of Science (M.S.)

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded



red spruce decline, dendrochronology, climate change, tree-rings


Picea rubens(red spruce) populations experienced a synchronous rangewide decline in growth and vigor starting in the 1960’s, which was likely caused by climate change or environmental disturbances (e.g., acid deposition); However, it is yet unknown if populations continue to decline or have recovered. In the context of global warming, red spruce is a species of concern because it is at its southern continuous range margin in Massachusetts. This study uses tree-ring data coupled with population data from permanent plots to quantify the status of red spruce in Massachusetts. Tree cores were extracted from red spruce and used to examine radial growth rates, determine a growth-climate relationship, and document disturbance events. Red spruce at these plots ranged from 90 to 184 years old, and comprised 15 to 29 m2/ha-1 basal area. Over the past 50 years, red spruce has decreased in density, basal area, and relative importance while red maple, yellow birch, and American beech have increased. Red spruce saplings persisted in some plots, but the sapling layer was comprised mostly of American beech or red maple. However, red spruce seedlings were common at red spruce dominant plots indicating that if favorable conditions occur, it could return to its more dominant position in the canopy.

Dendroclimatological analyses show that red spruce is sensitive to both temperature and precipitation. Most sites are correlated with temperature, while only twoforests were correlated to precipitation. The general temperature response of the red spruce studied was positively correlated with winter temperatures while the general precipitation response was negatively correlated with precipitation. Temporal analysis of the climate-growth response indicates that red spruce here have not had a temporally-stable, climate-growth relationship. Prior to 1960, radial growth was positively correlated with temperatures from November of the previous growing season to January of the current year. After 1960, all sites showed a shift in growth responses consistent with increased summer temperature stress; narrowed tree rings were formed during warm temperatures in July and August. Precipitation remained relatively constant over the past century, while temperatures have increased up to 2˚C across the study area. Of the two precipitation-sensitive forests, one forest shifted from being positively correlated with current January precipitation to negatively correlated with previous October precipitation while the second forest showed a strong positive relationship with August precipitation.

Because the radial growth of red spruce here are mostly constrained by temperatures, there has been negative growth response to regional warming and precipitation has been stable, I suggest the change in climate response is potentially due to warming and a physiological threshold response to increasing temperatures. Interestingly, disturbance frequency and intensity have increased over the same time period, which could be either a trigger or a response to the shift in the growth-climate relationship.


First Advisor

Matthew Kelty

Second Advisor

David Orwig