Implications of Liebig’s Law of the Minimum for Tree-Ring Reconstructions of Climate
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CitationStine, A. R., and P. Huybers. 2017. Implications of Liebig’s Law of the Minimum for Tree-Ring Reconstructions of Climate. Environmental Research Letters 12, no. 11.
AbstractA basic principle of ecology, known as Liebig's Law of the Minimum, is that plant growth reflects the strongest limiting environmental factor. This principle implies that a limiting environmental factor can be inferred from historical growth and, in dendrochronology, such reconstruction is generally achieved by averaging collections of standardized tree-ring records. Averaging is optimal if growth reflects a single limiting factor and noise but not if growth also reflects locally variable stresses that intermittently limit growth. In this study a collection of Arctic tree ring records is shown to follow scaling relationships that are inconsistent with the signal-plus-noise model of tree growth but consistent with Liebig's Law acting at the local level. Also consistent with law-of-the-minimum behavior is that reconstructions based on the least-stressed trees in a given year better-follow variations in temperature than typical approaches where all tree-ring records are averaged. Improvements in reconstruction skill occur across all frequencies, with the greatest increase at the lowest frequencies. More comprehensive statistical-ecological models of tree growth may offer further improvement in reconstruction skill.
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