When tree rings go global: Challenges and opportunities for retro- and prospective insight

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article


The demand for large-scale and long-term information on tree growth is increasing rapidly as environmental change research strives to quantify and forecast the impacts of continued warming on forest ecosystems. This demand, combined with the now quasi-global availability of tree-ring observations, has inspired researchers to compile large tree-ring networks to address continental or even global-scale research questions. However, these emergent spatial objectives contrast with paleo-oriented research ideas that have guided the development of many existing records. A series of challenges related to how, where, and when samples have been collected is complicating the transition of tree rings from a local to a global resource on the question of tree growth. Herein, we review possibilities to scale tree-ring data (A) from the sample to the whole tree, (B) from the tree to the site, and (C) from the site to larger spatial domains. Representative tree-ring sampling supported by creative statistical approaches is thereby key to robustly capture the heterogeneity of climate-growth responses across forested landscapes. We highlight the benefits of combining the temporal information embedded in tree rings with the spatial information offered by forest inventories and earth observations to quantify tree growth and its drivers. In addition, we show how the continued development of mechanistic tree-ring models can help address some of the non-linearities and feedbacks that complicate making inference from tree-ring data. By embracing scaling issues, the discipline of dendrochronology will greatly increase its contributions to assessing climate impacts on forests and support the development of adaptation strategies.


  • Flurin Babst
  • Paul Bodesheim
  • Noah Charney
  • Andrew D. Friend
  • Martin P. Girardin
  • Stefan Klesse
  • David J.P. Moore
  • Kristina Seftigen
  • Jesper Björklund
  • Olivier Bouriaud
  • Andria Dawson
  • R. Justin DeRose
  • Michael C. Dietze
  • Brian Enquist
  • David C. Frank
  • Miguel D. Mahecha
  • Benjamin Poulter
  • Sydne Record
  • Valerie Trouet
  • Rachael H. Turton
  • Zhen Zhang
  • Margaret E.K. Evans
External organisations
  • Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research
  • W. Szafer Institute of Botany, Polish Academy of Sciences
  • University of Arizona
  • Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry
  • University of Cambridge
  • Canadian Forest Service
  • University of Gothenburg
  • Catholic University of Louvain
  • Czech University of Life Sciences Prague
  • Stefan cel Mare University of Suceava
  • Mount Royal University
  • US Department of Agriculture, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Utah
  • Boston University
  • NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
  • Bryn Mawr College
  • University of Maryland
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Other Earth and Related Environmental Sciences


  • Anthropocene, Climate change, Data integration, Dendrochronology, Forest growth, Forest inventory, Remote sensing, Scaling, Vegetation models
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Oct 1
Publication categoryResearch
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographic note

Funding Information: F.B., P.B., and M.D.M. acknowledge funding from the EU-H2020 program (grant 640176, “BACI”). F.B. acknowledges funding from the Swiss National Science Foundation (#P300P2_154543). S.K. acknowledges the support of the USDA-AFRI grant 2016-67003-24944. A.D.F and R.H.T acknowledge support from the Natural Environment Research Council through grant number NE/P011462/1. Publisher Copyright: © 2018 Elsevier Ltd Copyright: Copyright 2018 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.