Climate Change Increases Drought Stress of Juniper Trees in the Mountains of Central Asia

PLoS One. 2016 Apr 21;11(4):e0153888. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0153888. eCollection 2016.


Assessments of climate change impacts on forests and their vitality are essential for semi-arid environments such as Central Asia, where the mountain regions belong to the globally important biodiversity hotspots. Alterations in species distribution or drought-induced tree mortality might not only result in a loss of biodiversity but also in a loss of other ecosystem services. Here, we evaluate spatial trends and patterns of the growth-climate relationship in a tree-ring network comprising 33 juniper sites from the northern Pamir-Alay and Tien Shan mountain ranges in eastern Uzbekistan and across Kyrgyzstan for the common period 1935-2011. Junipers growing at lower elevations are sensitive to summer drought, which has increased in intensity during the studied period. At higher elevations, juniper growth, previously favored by warm summer temperatures, has in the recent few decades become negatively affected by increasing summer aridity. Moreover, response shifts are observed during all seasons. Rising temperatures and alterations in precipitation patterns during the past eight decades can account for the observed increase in drought stress of junipers at all altitudes. The implications of our findings are vital for the application of adequate long-term measures of ecosystem conservation, but also for paleo-climatic approaches and coupled climate-vegetation model simulations for Central Asia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Asia
  • Biodiversity
  • Climate Change*
  • Droughts*
  • Ecosystem
  • Juniperus / physiology*
  • Stress, Physiological*
  • Trees / growth & development*

Grants and funding

The study was partially funded by Kungliga Vetenskapsakademien (KVA, including the Margit Althins Stipendiefond), Svenska Sällskapet för Antropologi och Geografi (SSAG), Wilhelm och Martina Lundgrens Vetenskapsfond and Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency SIDA (project SWE-2009-245). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.