, Volume 131, Issue 3, pp 717-725

Late frost sensitivity of juvenile Fagus sylvatica L. differs between southern Germany and Bulgaria and depends on preceding air temperature

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Abstract

Fagus sylvatica, the dominant native forest tree species of Central Europe, is sensitive to late frost events. Advanced leaf flushing due to climate warming may lead to more frequent frost damage in the future. Here, we explore local adaptation to late frost events at both continental and regional scales and test how moderate climate warming (+1.5°C) affects late frost sensitivity. Short-term leaf injury and height growth after a late frost event were quantified in a common garden experiment with 2-year-old F. sylvatica seedlings. The fully crossed three-factorial design consisted of a late frost manipulation, a continuous warming manipulation and selected provenances (three provenances from western Bulgaria and three from southern Germany). Late frost led to leaf injury and reduced height growth (−7%). Provenances differed in their late frost sensitivity at the regional scale, and local adaptation was detected. At the larger scale, the Bulgarian provenances showed reduced height growth (−17%), while the German provenances did not exhibit growth reduction. The warming treatment prevented late frost damage, while height growth declined by 19% in the reference temperature treatment. This surprising finding was attributed to advanced leaf maturity in the warming treatment. The impact of late frost events on F. sylvatica in a warmer world will depend on timing. An event that damages leaves immediately after leaf flushing appears negligible a few days earlier or later, thereby complicating projections. Local adaptation to late frost is evident at a regional scale. Management strategies should aim at maximizing genetic diversity to adapt to climate change.

Communicated by C. Ammer.