Most mountain inhabitants and visitors will have clear mental images of the alpine treeline, the conspicuous transition from forest to treeless alpine vegetation. These images are likely to be as varied across the globe as the actual variation in form and landscape positions that can be observed between sites and mountain ranges. These spatial patterns can provide insights in what makes each treeline unique and in what makes some of them similar enough to allow generalised predictions about their dynamics.
In a recent workshop, held near the Pyrenees between 31 August and 5 September 2017, nine treeline researchers gathered to discuss how this global variation in spatial patterns at treelines from the subarctic to the tropics can be captured, quantified and used to predict dynamics at different treeline sites.
The synthesis workshop was hosted by the Pyrenean Institute of Ecology in Jaca, Spain, and financed by MRI and the German Research Foundation. It consisted of three days of discussions and one day of visiting a research site of Julio Camarero in the Pyrenees. Typical questions discussed were: What spatial patterns at alpine treelines are indicative of what processes controlling their dynamics? What statistical and mechanistic modelling methods are most suited to gain insight into these processes and likely climate-change response at different treelines worldwide? And what spatial data should be collected to build or validate such models?
All experts agreed that there is much to be gained by using advanced spatial statistical and mechanistic simulation models to analyse spatial patterns. A clear limitation to this approach at present is the lack of suitable data for model construction and validation. Therefore we will be advocating the collection of more spatially-explicit population- and community-level data from treeline sites around the world. To support such data collection, share existing data and coordinate research and monitoring efforts globally, our second important topic of the workshop was the initiation of a global treeline research and monitoring network. This is an exciting ongoing effort that we are all very enthusiastic about, so there will be follow-ups!
This blog post on the MRI Synthesis Workshop on Treeline Spatial Patterns has been written by Prof. Maaike Bader from the Research Group Ecological Plant Geography at the Faculty of Geography, University of Marburg, Germany.