Noticeable changes in vegetation distribution have occurred in the Pacific Northwest during the last century as trees have established in some subalpine meadows. To study the relationship of this process to climate, recently established trees were aged in six subalpine meadows in the Olympic Mountains, Washington. The sites represent three points along a steep precipitation gradient. Subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa) has been establishing at the dry end of the gradient, mountain hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana) at the wet end, and both species in the center. Establishment patterns were compared with deviations from the century-long average for these weather variables: winter precipitation, Palmer Drought Severity Index, and winter, October, and May temperatures. Results show that establishment occurred in dry areas when weather conditions were wetter than average, and in wet areas under drier than average conditions. Establishment at central sites did not show consistent relationships with climate. If future climatic conditions continue to warm, establishment of subalpine fir in subalpine meadows in dry areas may cease and mountain hemlock may resume in wet areas.
Additional publication details
Climate, geography, and tree establishment in subalpine meadows of the Olympic Mountains, Washington, USA