Potential risks for European beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) in a changing climate
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Over large areas of Europe, coniferous monocultures are being transformed into mixed forests by the re-introduction of broadleaf tree species belonging to the potential natural vegetation. One important species of interest in this changing forest policy is European beech (Fagus sylvatica). However, at present, this forest management directive has ignored potential adverse effects of global climate change on wide-spread re-introduction of beech to these areas. Average global surface temperatures have risen by approx. 0.8°C in the period between 1861 and 2005 and are expected to continue to increase until the end of this century by 1.5–5.8°C above the 1990 value. To estimate the climate change in the southern part of central Europe in future, we reviewed calculations from regional climate models. Temperature increase for the southern part of central Europe is projected to be up to 2°C within the next 40 years. In contrast, the annual precipitation will most likely remain constant over the same time period, but will experience significant changes in seasonal patterns. Rising intensities of individual precipitation events may result in increasing number and intensities of flooding events and reduced precipitation during the growing season in a higher frequency of summer droughts. Growth and competitive ability of European beech will not, necessarily, respond to increasing CO2 concentrations but may be strongly impacted by intensive drought that occurs during the growing season. Seedlings as well as adult trees may suffer from xylem embolism, restricted nutrient uptake capacity and reduced growth under limited water availability. However, it remains uncertain to what extent other environmental factors (e.g. soil properties, competitive interactions) may modify the drought response of beech, thus either enhancing susceptibility or increasing drought tolerance and resilience potential. Water-logged soils, predicted during the spring for several regions due to higher than average precipitation, could negatively impact nutrient uptake and growth of beech. Whereas other dominant species as, e.g. oak are well adapted to that environmental stress, beech is known to be sensitive to water-logging and flooding. Thus, the competitive capacity of beech might—depending on the other environmental conditions—be reduced under the expected future climate conditions. Silvicultural practices must be aware today of the potential risks which a changing climate may impose on sustainable forest development.