Nonlinear Weather–Growth Relationships Suggest Disproportional Growth Changes of Norway Spruce in the Eastern Baltic Region


Norway spruce (Picea abies (L.) H. Karst.) is predicted to decrease its abundance in the Eastern Baltic region as a result of climatic changes, and this process is already explicit at the southern limit of species lowland distribution. Still, there are uncertainties about the growth potential of Norway spruce within the region due to the plasticity of local populations. In this regard, an assessment of regional weather–growth responses, assuming a nonlinearity of the ecological relationship, can aid in the clarification of uncertainties regarding growth. Nonlinear regional weather–growth relationships for Norway spruce were assessed based on tree-ring widths from 22 stands spreading from Southern Finland to Northern Germany using dendrochronological methods and a generalized additive mixed model. Temporal and spatial stationarity of local linear weather–growth relationships was evaluated. Considering the drought sensitivity of Norway spruce, meteorological variables related to the summer moisture regime were the main predictors of radial increment, though conditions in winter and spring had complementary effects. Generally, the linear weather–growth relationships were spatially and temporary nonstationary, with some exceptions in Poland and Northern Germany. Explicit local specifics in the linear weather–growth relationships, which are common in the marginal parts of species’ distribution, were observed in Estonia, Latvia, and Poland. The estimated regional weather–growth relationships were mostly nonlinear, implying disproportional responses to climatic changes, particularly to intensifying drought conditions across the studied climatic gradient. Still, the responses to winter temperature suggested that warming might contribute to growth. The estimated linear and nonlinear growth responses indicate strict limitation by drought conditions, implying reductions of increment due to climatic changes southward from Latvia, suggesting the necessity for proactive management. Nevertheless, in the northern part of the analyzed region, the projected climatic changes appear favorable for growth of Norway spruce in the near future.