, Volume 20, Issue 5, pp 571-586
Date: 07 Jun 2006

Inter-annual and seasonal variability of radial growth, wood density and carbon isotope ratios in tree rings of beech (Fagus sylvatica ) growing in Germany and Italy

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


We investigated the variability of tree-ring width, wood density and 13C/12C in beech tree rings (Fagus sylvatica L.), and analyzed the influence of climatic variables and carbohydrate storage on these parameters. Wood cores were taken from dominant beech trees in three stands in Germany and Italy. We used densitometry to obtain density profiles of tree rings and laser-ablation-combustion-GC-IRMS to estimate carbon isotope composition (δ 13C) of wood. The sensitivity of ring width, wood density and δ 13C to climatic variables differed; with tree-ring width responding to environmental conditions (temperature or precipitation) during the first half of a growing season and maximum density correlated with temperatures in the second part of a growing season (July–September). δ 13C variations indicate re-allocation and storage processes and effects of drought during the main growing season. About 20% of inter-annual variation of tree-ring width was explained by the tree-ring width of the previous year. This was confirmed by δ 13C of wood which showed a contribution of stored carbohydrates to growth in spring and a storage effect that competes with growth in autumn. Only mid-season δ 13C of wood was related to concurrent assimilation and climate. The comparison of seasonal changes in tree-ring maximum wood density and isotope composition revealed that an increasing seasonal water deficit changes the relationship between density and 13C composition from a negative relation in years with optimal moisture to a positive relationship in years with strong water deficit. The climate signal, however, is over-ridden by effects of stand density and crown structure (e.g., by forest management). There was an unexpected high variability in mid season δ 13C values of wood between individual trees (−31 to −24‰) which was attributed to competition between dominant trees as indicated by crown area, and microclimatological variations within the canopy. Maximum wood density showed less variation (930–990 g cm−3). The relationship between seasonal changes in tree-ring structure and 13C composition can be used to study carbon storage and re-allocation, which is important for improving models of tree-ring growth and carbon isotope fractionation. About 20–30% of the tree-ring is affected by storage processes. The effects of storage on tree-ring width and the effects of forest structure put an additional uncertainty on using tree rings of broad leaved trees for climate reconstruction.