Is this the end? Dynamics of a relict stand from pervasively deforested ancient Iberian pine forests
A drier climate together with intense management can be detrimental for species when they are found at their xeric limit. We analyzed the dynamics of Pinus sylvestris in Central Spain in relation to colonization by more drought-tolerant Quercus pyrenaica. The studied forest presents high biodiversity and is one of the last stands relict from a widespread pine-dominated forest in West-Central Iberian Mountains demised by human deforestation. The observed age patterns could suggest a natural regeneration origin of the current stand for both species. However, while oaks regenerated continuously since the 1950s, there was almost no pine regeneration after the 1870s. Therefore, the lack of pine regeneration was previous to recent climatic changes. Pine stands with ongoing oak colonization were likely thinned in the 1920s in opposition to pure pine stands. Mixed and pure stands expressed certain differences in their response to climate. Pines suffered more from high temperatures from spring to fall, which would reflect their lower tolerance to drought than oaks. Cross-wavelet analysis showed that pine exhibited an increase in their sensitivity to drought intensity in the last years. However, the dominant pine canopy established in the nineteenth century does not show symptoms of growth decline in response to climate change. The factors determining the disruption of pine regeneration need to be determined. Management could have played a dominant role constraining stand dynamics, threatening pine sustainability through modifications of the understory vegetation and soil properties.