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. 2018 Mar;24(3):1108-1122.
doi: 10.1111/gcb.13973. Epub 2017 Nov 24.

Vapor-pressure Deficit and Extreme Climatic Variables Limit Tree Growth

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Vapor-pressure Deficit and Extreme Climatic Variables Limit Tree Growth

Paula Sanginés de Cárcer et al. Glob Chang Biol. .

Abstract

Assessing the effect of global warming on forest growth requires a better understanding of species-specific responses to climate change conditions. Norway spruce and European beech are among the dominant tree species in Europe and are largely used by the timber industry. Their sensitivity to changes in climate and extreme climatic events, however, endangers their future sustainability. Identifying the key climatic factors limiting their growth and survival is therefore crucial for assessing the responses of these two species to ongoing climate change. We studied the vulnerability of beech and spruce to warmer and drier conditions by transplanting saplings from the top to the bottom of an elevational gradient in the Jura Mountains in Switzerland. We (1) demonstrated that a longer growing season due to warming could not fully account for the positive growth responses, and the positive effect on sapling productivity was species-dependent, (2) demonstrated that the contrasting growth responses of beech and spruce were mainly due to different sensitivities to elevated vapor-pressure deficits (VPD), (3) determined the species-specific limits to VPD above which growth rate began to decline, and (4) demonstrated that models incorporating extreme climatic events could account for the response of growth to warming better than models using only average values. These results support that the sustainability of forest trees in the coming decades will depend on how extreme climatic events will change, irrespective of the overall warming trend.

Keywords: beech; climate change; extreme events; spruce; tree growth; vapor-pressure deficit; wooded pastures.

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