Conifer Trees in a Warming World

Research Issue

[photo:] Boreal forest with snow cover.  Photo by Richard Strimbeck, Norwegian University of Science and Technology.The Earth's climate has changed throughout history, with the last ice age ending about 7,000 years ago. Most past climate changes were probably caused by small shifts in our planet’s orbit, which changed the amount of solar energy our planet receives. As a result, generally speaking, winters are becoming shorter and more erratic. For conifers (trees with cones and needles, such as pine, fir and spruce) that grow in subarctic and mild-climate regions, this can create stress, even if the trees are adapted to seasonally low temperatures.

Our Research

To better understand how these trees’ metabolisms change during winter, Northern Research Station scientists are conducting field and laboratory experiments to see how foliar (leaf-based) sugars relate to freeze tolerance, and exploring the tradeoffs between cold tolerance and seasonal dormancy.

Expected Outcomes

This research will help scientists and land managers understand how different conifer tree types are likely to store carbon dioxide throughout the year. This will allow managers to judge where and when to favor adaptive tree types in order to maximize productivity and carbon sequestration as climates warm.

Research Results

Asbjornsen, Heidi; Campbell, John L.; Jennings, Katie A.; Vadeboncoeur, Matthew A.; McIntire, Cameron; Templer, Pamela H.; Phillips, Richard P.; Bauerle, Taryn L.; Dietze, Michael C.; Frey, Serita D.; Groffman, Peter M.; Guerrieri, Rosella; Hanson, Paul J.; Kelsey, Eric P.; Knapp, Alan K.; McDowell, Nathan G.; Meir, Patrick; Novick, Kimberly A.; Ollinger, Scott V.; Pockman, Will T.; Schaberg, Paul G.; Wullschleger, Stan D.; Smith, Melinda D.; Rustad, Lindsey E. 2018. Guidelines and considerations for designing field experiments simulating precipitation extremes in forest ecosystems. Methods in Ecology and Evolution. 9(12): 2310-2325.

Janowiak, Maria K.; D'Amato, Anthony W.; Swanston, Christopher W.; Iverson, Louis; Thompson, Frank R., III; Dijak, William D.; Matthews, Stephen; Peters, Matthew P.; Prasad, Anantha; Fraser, Jacob S.; Brandt, Leslie A.; Butler-Leopold, Patricia; Handler, Stephen D.; Shannon, P. Danielle; Burbank, Diane; Campbell, John; Cogbill, Charles; Duveneck, Matthew J.; Emery, Marla R.; Fisichelli, Nicholas; Foster, Jane; Hushaw, Jennifer; Kenefic, Laura; Mahaffey, Amanda; Morelli, Toni Lyn; Reo, Nicholas J.; Schaberg, Paul G.; Simmons, K. Rogers; Weiskittel, Aaron; Wilmot, Sandy; Hollinger, David; Lane, Erin; Rustad, Lindsey; Templer, Pamela H. 2018. New England and northern New York forest ecosystem vulnerability assessment and synthesis: a report from the New England Climate Change Response Framework project. Gen. Tech. Rep. NRS-173. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station. 234 p.

Oswald, Evan M.; Pontius, Jennifer; Rayback, Shelly A.; Schaberg, Paul G.; Wilmot, Sandra H.; Dupigny-Giroux, Lesley-Ann. 2018. The complex relationship between climate and sugar maple health: Climate change implications in Vermont for a key northern hardwood species. Forest Ecology and Management. 422: 303-312.

Strimbeck, G. Richard; Schaberg, Paul G.; Fossdal, Carl G.; Schroder, Wolfgang P.; Kjellsen, Trygve D. 2015. Extreme low temperature tolerance in woody plants. Frontiers in Plant Science. 6.

Strimbeck, G.R., and Schaberg, P.G. 2009. Going to extremes: Low-temperature tolerance and acclimation in temperate and boreal conifers. In: L. Gusta, M. Wisniewski, and K. Tanino, Eds., Plant Cold Hardiness: From Laboratory to the Field, CAB International Publishing, Wallingford, UK.

Strimbeck, G.R., Kjellsen, T.D., Schaberg, P.G., Murakami, P.F. 2008.  Dynamics of low-temperature acclimation in temperate and boreal conifer foliage in a mild winter climate.  Tree Physiol. 28:1365-1374.

Strimbeck, G.R., Kjellsen, T.D., Schaberg, P.G., Murakami, P.F. 2007. Cold in the common garden: comparative low-temperature tolerance of boreal and temperate conifer foliage. Trees: Structure and Function. 21:557-567.

Research Participants

Principal Investigator

  • Paul Schaberg, US Forest Service Northern Research Station, Research Plant Physiologist

Research Partners

  • Paula Murakami, US Forest Service Northern Research Station, Research Associate
  • G. Richard Strimbeck, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Professor of Biology
  • Trygve Kjellsen, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Ph.D. Candidate
  • Last modified: March 19, 2019