Recent growth changes in Western European forests are driven by climate warming and structured across tree species climatic habitats
Recent growth changes (1980–2007) in Western European forests strongly vary across tree species, and range from +42% in mountain contexts to −17% in Mediterranean contexts. These changes reveal recent climate warming footprint and are structured by species' temperature (−) and precipitation (+) growing conditions.
Unprecedented climate warming impacts forests extensively, questioning the respective roles of climatic habitats and tree species in forest growth responses. National forest inventories ensure a repeated and spatially systematic monitoring of forests and form a unique contributing data source.
A primary aim of this paper was to estimate recent growth changes in eight major European tree species, in natural contexts ranging from mountain to Mediterranean. A second aim was to explore their association with species’ climatic habitat and contemporary climate change.
Using >315,000 tree increments measured in >25,000 NFI plots, temporal changes in stand basal area increment (BAI) were modelled. Indicators of climate normals and of recent climatic change were correlated to species BAI changes.
BAI changes spanned from −17 to +42% over 1980–2007 across species. BAI strongly increased for mountain species, showed moderate/no increase for generalist and temperate lowland species and declined for Mediterranean species. BAI changes were greater in colder/wetter contexts than in warmer/drier ones where declines were observed. This suggested a role for climate warming, further found more intense in colder contexts and strongly correlated with species BAI changes.
The predominant role of climate warming and species climatic habitat in recent growth changes is highlighted in Western Europe. Concern is raised for Mediterranean species, showing growth decreases in a warmer climate with stable precipitation.