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Southern Hemisphere temperate tree lines are not climatically depressed

Cieraad, E.; McGlone, M.S.; Huntley, B.

Southern Hemisphere temperate tree lines are not climatically depressed Thumbnail


E. Cieraad

M.S. McGlone

B. Huntley


Aim Southern temperate tree lines are found at low elevations compared with their Northern Hemisphere counterparts. They are also regarded as forming at warm temperatures, which has been attributed to taxon-specific limitations. Using New Zealand tree lines as an example, we assess whether these tree lines are anomalously warm compared with the global mean. Location New Zealand. Methods Soil and air temperatures were measured over 2 years at six New Zealand tree line sites, and compared with other local and global growing season temperature data. In New Zealand and other oceanic regions, the long, variable seasonal transitions make calculations of mean growing season temperatures highly sensitive to how the growing season is defined. We used both the conventional (wide) definition (from when mean weekly root-zone temperature exceeds 3.2 degrees C in spring, to when it first falls below 3.2 degrees C in autumn) and a narrow definition (the period during which temperatures are continuously above 3.2 C). Application of these criteria leads to similar mean growing season temperatures in continental regions, but different ones in oceanic regions. We tested whether growing season temperatures differ between northern and southern temperate tree lines. Results New Zealand tree lines had a mean root-zone temperature during the wide growing season of 7.0 degrees C +/- 0.4 SD, not significantly different from those at northern temperate tree lines. The mean temperature of the narrow growing season was 7.8 degrees C, warmer than tree lines elsewhere, but still within the range reported for temperate tree lines (7-8 degrees C). Main conclusions Whilst they are found at lower elevations, New Zealand tree lines form at temperatures similar to those at Northern Hemisphere temperate tree lines. Together with similar recent evidence from Chile, these results refute the previously postulated taxon-specific limitation hypothesis, and suggest these southern temperate tree lines are not climatically depressed, but are governed by the same thermal threshold as other tree lines worldwide.


Cieraad, E., McGlone, M., & Huntley, B. (2014). Southern Hemisphere temperate tree lines are not climatically depressed. Journal of Biogeography, 41(8), 1456-1466.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Feb 10, 2014
Online Publication Date Apr 10, 2014
Publication Date Aug 1, 2014
Deposit Date Jan 26, 2015
Publicly Available Date Feb 5, 2015
Journal Journal of Biogeography
Print ISSN 0305-0270
Electronic ISSN 1365-2699
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 41
Issue 8
Pages 1456-1466
Keywords Chile, Conifers, New Zealand, Nothofagus, Southern Hemisphere, Taxon-specific limitation, Temperate forests, Temperature, Timberline, Tree line microclimate.


Accepted Journal Article (1.2 Mb)

Copyright Statement
This is the accepted version of the following article: Cieraad, E., McGlone, M. S., Huntley, B. (2014), Southern Hemisphere temperate tree lines are not climatically depressed. Journal of Biogeography, 41 (8): 1456–1466, which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance With Wiley Terms and Conditions for self-archiving.

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