, Volume 189, Issue 2, pp 291-299
Date: 18 Jul 2006

Tree growth, mortality, and above-ground biomass accumulation in a holm oak forest under a five-year experimental field drought

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Abstract

A holm oak forest was exposed to an experimental drought during 5 years to elucidate the growth responses of the dominant species Quercus ilex, Arbutus unedo and Phillyrea latifolia. Soil water availability was partially reduced, about 15% as predicted for this area for the next decades by GCM and ecophysiological models, by plastic strips intercepting rainfall and by ditch exclusion of water runoff. The stem diameter increment was highly correlated with annual rainfall in all species, and drought treatment strongly reduced the diameter increment of Q. ilex (41%) and specially of A. unedo (63%), the species showing higher growth rates. Stem mortality rates were highly correlated with previous stem density, but drought treatment increased mortality rates in all species. Q. ilex showed the highest mortality rates (9% and 18% in control and drought plots, respectively), and P. latifolia experienced the lowest mortality rates (1% and 3% in control and drought plots, respectively). Drought strongly reduced the increment of live aboveground biomass during these 5 years (83%). A. unedo and Q. ilex experienced a high reduction in biomass increment by drought, whereas P. latifolia biomass increment was insensitive to drought. The different sensitivity to drought of the dominant species of the holm oak forest may be very important determining their future development and distribution in a drier environment as expected in Mediterranean areas for the next decades. These drier conditions could thus have strong effects on structure (species composition) and functioning (carbon uptake and biomass accumulation) of these Mediterranean forests.