Phenological and water-use patterns underlying maximum growing season length at the highest elevations: implications under climate change

Tree Physiol. 2012 Feb;32(2):161-70. doi: 10.1093/treephys/tps003. Epub 2012 Feb 15.


Consequences of climate change on tree phenology are readily observable, but little is known about the variations in phenological sensitivity to drought between populations within a species. In this study, we compare the phenological sensitivity to temperature and water availability in Abies pinsapo Boiss., a drought-sensitive Mediterranean fir, across its altitudinal distribution gradient. Twig growth and needle fall were related to temperature, precipitation and plant water status on a daily scale. Stands located at the top edge of the distributional range showed the most favourable water balance, maximum growth rates and little summer defoliation. Towards higher elevations, the observed delay in budburst date due to lower spring temperatures was overcome by a stronger delay in growth cessation date due to the later onset of strong water-deficit conditions in the summer. This explains an extended growing season and the greatest mean growth at the highest elevation. Conversely, lower predawn xylem water potentials and early partial stomatal closure and growth cessation were found in low-elevation A. pinsapo trees. An earlier and higher summer peak of A. pinsapo litterfall was also observed at these water-limited sites. Our results illustrate the ecophysiological background of the ongoing altitudinal shifts reported for this relict tree species under current climatic conditions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abies / metabolism*
  • Abies / physiology
  • Altitude*
  • Climate Change*
  • Geography
  • Plant Stomata / physiology
  • Seasons
  • Water / metabolism*
  • Xylem / metabolism
  • Xylem / physiology


  • Water