November 15, 2017
LINK TO PUBLICATION Rapid warming and changes in water availability at high latitudes alter resource abundance, tree competition, and disturbance regimes. While these changes are expected to disrupt the functioning of boreal forests, their ultimate implications for forest composition are uncertain. In particular, recent site-level studies of the Alaskan boreal forest have reported both increases and decreases in productivity over the past few decades. Here, we test the idea that variations in Alaskan forest growth and mortality rates are contingent on species composition. Using forest inventory measurements and climate data from plots located throughout interior and south-central Alaska, we show significant growth and mortality responses associated with competition, midsummer vapor pressure deficit, and increased growing season length. The governing climate and competition processes differed substantially across species. Surprisingly, the most dramatic climate response occurred in the drought tolerant angiosperm species, trembling aspen, and linked high midsummer vapor pressure deficits to decreased growth and increased insect-related mortality. Given that species composition in the Alaskan and western Canadian boreal forests is projected to shift toward early-successional angiosperm species due to fire regime, these results underscore the potential for a reduction in boreal productivity stemming from increases in midsummer evaporative demand.