, Volume 161, Issue 3, pp 611–624 | Cite as

Competition and drought limit the response of water-use efficiency to rising atmospheric carbon dioxide in the Mediterranean fir Abies pinsapo

  • Juan-Carlos LinaresEmail author
  • Antonio Delgado-Huertas
  • J. Julio Camarero
  • José Merino
  • José A. Carreira
Global change ecology - Original Paper


The gas-exchange and radial growth responses of conifer forests to climatic warming and increasing atmospheric CO2 have been widely studied. However, the modulating effects of variables related to stand structure (e.g., tree-to-tree competition) on those responses are poorly explored. The basal-area increment (BAI) and C isotope discrimination (C stable isotope ratio; δ13C) in the Mediterranean fir Abies pinsapo were investigated to elucidate the influences of stand competition, atmospheric CO2 concentrations and climate on intrinsic water-use efficiency (WUEi). We assessed the variation in δ13C of tree-rings from dominant or co-dominant trees subjected to different degrees of competition. A high- (H) and a low-elevation (L) population with contrasting climatic constraints were studied in southern Spain. Both populations showed an increase in long-term WUEi. However, this increase occurred more slowly at the L site, where a decline of BAI was also observed. Local warming and severe droughts have occurred in the study area over the past 30 years, which have reduced water availability more at lower elevations. Contrastingly, trees from the H site were able to maintain high BAI values at a lower cost in terms of water consumption. In each population, trees subjected to a higher degree of competition by neighboring trees showed lower BAI and WUEi than those subjected to less competition, although the slopes of the temporal trends in WUEi were independent of the competitive micro-environment experienced by the trees. The results are consistent with an increasing drought-induced limitation of BAI and a decreasing rate of WUEi improvement in low-elevation A. pinsapo forests. This relict species might not be able to mitigate the negative effects of a decrease in water availability through a reduction in stomatal conductance, thus leading to a growth decline in the more xeric sites. An intense and poorly asymmetric competitive environment at the stand level may also act as an important constraint on the adaptive capacity of these drought-sensitive forests to climatic warming.


Carbon isotope discrimination Global change Stand structure Drought Abies pinsapo 



This study was supported by Junta de Andalucía projects CVI-302, P06-RNM-02362 and RNM-296. J. C. L. acknowledges a MEC-FPU grant, and J. J. C. acknowledges the support of ARAID. We also want to thank Evan DeLucia and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. These experiments comply with the current laws of Spain.

Supplementary material

442_2009_1409_MOESM1_ESM.doc (616 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 615 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Juan-Carlos Linares
    • 1
    Email author
  • Antonio Delgado-Huertas
    • 2
  • J. Julio Camarero
    • 3
  • José Merino
    • 1
  • José A. Carreira
    • 4
  1. 1.Área de EcologíaUniversidad Pablo de OlavideSevillaSpain
  2. 2.Estación Experimental del Zaidín (CSIC)GranadaSpain
  3. 3.ARAID, Instituto Pirenaico de Ecología (CSIC)ZaragozaSpain
  4. 4.Área de EcologíaUniversidad de JaénJaénSpain

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