Increasing Aridity is Enhancing Silver Fir Abies Alba Mill.) Water Stress in its South-Western Distribution Limit
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Tree populations located at the geographical distribution limit of the species may provide valuable information about the response of tree growth to climate warming across climatic gradients. Dendroclimatic information was extracted from a network of 10 silver-fir (Abies alba) populations in the south-western distribution limit of the species (Pyrenees, NE Iberian Peninsula). Ring-width chronologies were built for five stands sampled in mesic sites from the Main Range in the Pyrenees, and for five forests located in the southern Peripheral Ranges where summer drought is more pronounced. The radial growth of silver-fir in this region is constrained by water stress during the summer previous to growth, as suggested by the negative relationship with previous September temperature and, to a lesser degree, by a positive relationship with previous end of summer precipitation. Climatic data showed a warming trend since the 1970s across the Pyrenees, with more severe summer droughts. The recent warming changed the climate-growth relationships, causing higher growth synchrony among sites, and a higher year-to-year growth variation, especially in the southernmost forests. Moving-interval response functions suggested an increasing water-stress effect on radial growth during the last half of the 20th century. The growth period under water stress has extended from summer up to early autumn. Forests located in the southern Peripheral Ranges experienced a more intense water stress, as seen in a shift of their response to precipitation and temperature. The Main-Range sites mainly showed a response to warming. The intensification of water-stress during the late 20th century might affect the future growth performance of the highly-fragmented A. alba populations in the southwestern distribution limit of the species.
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