Reduced stem growth, but no reserve depletion or hydraulic impairment in beech suffering from long-term decline
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Under non-extreme drought conditions, reduced stem growth is not associated with reserve or hydraulic impairment in beech suffering from long-term decline.
Global change is expected to increase the frequency and the intensity of drought events in temperate ecosystems. In some regions, this might be associated with an increase in tree decline. Of the ecophysiological mechanisms that have been proposed to explain tree decline, an impairment of the vascular transport system and/or carbon function are two of the most discussed. In a context of long-term decline caused by droughts, we investigated the functional differences between the carbon, nitrogen, and hydraulic functions of healthy and declining mature beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) trees. The study was carried out over two consecutive years with contrasting water availabilities. The radial growth of declining trees was clearly less than that of healthy trees, due to a lower growth rate, associated during the wet year with a shorter growth period. Leaf functional characteristics and hydraulic parameters (native embolism and cavitation vulnerability curves) were similar in healthy and declining trees. However, at the end of a growing season characterized by a dry spring, carbon reserves concentrations in young branches of declining trees were lower than those in healthy trees, though they recovered during the following non-constraining growing season. Our results did not indicate carbon starvation, nitrogen deficiency, or hydraulic failure. However, there seems to be some compensation mechanism related to reserve dynamics in the remaining living tissue of the declining trees. This study shows that the climate conditions of successive years are probably crucial for these functional adjustments to be operational.
KeywordsBeech Reserves Forest decline Growth Hydraulic failure
The authors would like to acknowledge the students who contributed to data collection and field work: Alain Sévéré for his help with the branch sampling, and Michèle Viel and Patricia Le Thuaut for technical assistance. We are grateful to the French National Forest Office (ONF) for allowing us to carry out these experiments. The authors thank Stéphane Herbette (UMR PIAF INRA, Université Blaise Pascal), for help with the measurements of vulnerability curves.
Compliance with ethical standards
AD’s doctoral grant was provided by the French Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research. Additional financial support was provided by a CYTRIX project (EC2CO) funded by CNRS and INSU and also by the ESE laboratory supported by the University Paris-Sud, CNRS and AgroParisTech.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
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