Original Article


, 21:79

First online:

Seasonal courses of key parameters of nitrogen, carbon and water balance in European beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) grown on four different study sites along a European North–South climate gradient during the 2003 drought

  • Michael NahmAffiliated withInstitute of Forest Botany and Tree Physiology, Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg
  • , Andreas MatzarakisAffiliated withMeteorological Institute, Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg
  • , Heinz RennenbergAffiliated withInstitute of Forest Botany and Tree Physiology, Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg
  • , Arthur GeßlerAffiliated withInstitut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA), Centre de Recherche de NancyZentrum für Biosystem analyse, Core Facility Metabolomics, Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg Email author 

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During the growing season of the exceptionally dry and warm year 2003, we assessed seasonal changes in nitrogen, carbon and water balance related parameters of mature naturally grown European beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) along a North–South transect in Europe that included a beech forest stand in central Germany, two in southern Germany and one in southern France. Indicators for N balance assessed at all four sites were foliar N contents and total soluble non-protein nitrogen compounds (TSNN) in xylem sap, leaves and phloem exudates; C and water balance related parameters determined were foliar C contents, δ13C and δ18O signatures. Tissue sampling was performed in May, July and September. The N related parameters displayed seasonal courses with highest concentrations during N remobilization in May. Decreased total foliar N contents as well as higher C/N ratios in the stands in central Germany and southern France compared to the other study sites point to an impaired N nutrition status due to lower soil N contents and precipitation perception. TSNN concentrations in leaves and phloem exudates of all study sites were in ranges previously reported, but xylem sap content of amino compounds in July was lower at all study sites when compared to literature data (c. 1 μmol N mL−1). In September, TSNN concentrations increased again at the two study sites in southern Germany after a rain event, whereas they remained constant at sites in central Germany and southern France which hardly perceived precipitation during that time. Thus, TSNN concentrations in the xylem sap might be indicative for water balance related N supply in the beech trees. TSNN profiles at all study sites, however, did not indicate drought stress. Foliar δ13C, but not foliar C and δ18O followed a seasonal trend at all study sites with highest values in May. Differences in foliar δ13C and δ18O did not reflect climatic differences between the sites, and are attributed to differences in altitude, photosynthesis and δ18O signatures of the water sources. Except of low TSNN concentrations in the xylem sap, no physiological indications of drought stress were detected in the trees analysed. We suppose that the other parameters assessed might not have been sensitive to the drought events because of efficient regulation mechanisms that provide a suitable physiological setting even under conditions of prolonged water limitation. The uniform performance of the trees from southern France and central Germany under comparably dry climate conditions denotes that the metabolic plasticity of mature beech from the different sites studied might be similar.


Mature European beech North–South transect Drought Total foliar N Amino compounds TSNN Xylem loading Climate