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Differential impact of the most extreme drought event over the last half century on growth and sap flow in two coexisting Mediterranean trees


Extreme climatic events such as intense droughts are becoming more frequent in Mediterranean regions, but our understanding of their impact on tree performance is still fragmentary. We analyzed growth and sap flow responses for a 3-year period including the most stressful drought over the last half century in the evergreen Pinus nigra and the deciduous Quercus faginea, two dominant tree species in the continental plateau of the Iberian Peninsula. Our aim was to quantify the differential impacts of this event on the performance of both species and their modulation by local microclimate. Growth was registered with digital dendrometers, and water use was assessed by continuously recording sap flow in 8–9 coexisting adult individuals of each species in two sites. Q. faginea spring growth rate decreased by 60 % during the dry year at the dry site, while the decrease in P. nigra was around 36 %. P. nigra exhibited larger sap flow reductions during the dry season and also larger decreases during the extreme year, but in contrast to Q. faginea, it was able to recover growth and sap flow values after the extreme drought. Minor microclimatic differences between sites had significant effects on growth and water use, with slightly more mesic conditions significantly attenuating the impact of drought on both species. Findings suggest that the study species were near to their tolerance thresholds, so that even moderate increases in the intensity and frequency of unusual droughts have important consequences for individual tree performance, and eventually species coexistence and ecosystem processes.

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Authors thank the Junta de Castilla-La Mancha, Director and Park Rangers of the Alto Tajo Natural Park for the permission to carry out the study in the Park and for the information and facilities provided. Authors are very grateful to David López-Quiroga for his inestimable support in field work. We also thank to T. Morán and S. Matesanz for their help with statistical analysis and to E. Granda, A. Rey and A. Dolinger for corrections, which improved the manuscript. Meteorological data for the reference station of Molina de Aragón were provided by the Spanish Meteorological Agency (AEMET). Authors thank to M. Pollastrini for providing data of Plant Area Index (PAI) within project FunDiv Europe. A.F. was supported by JAE-predoc fellowship from the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), co-funded by the European Union (Fondo Social Europeo). This work was supported by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness with the Grant VULGLO (CGL2010-22180-C03-03), the Community of Madrid Grant REMEDINAL (CM S2009/AMB-1783) and by projects ‘ECOFISEPI’ (AGL2011-25365/BOS) and SUM2008-00004-C03-01 funded by the Ministry of Science and Innovation of Spain.

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Correspondence to Alicia Forner.

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Communicated by Thomas Abeli, Rodolfo Gentili and Anne Jäkäläniemi.

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Forner, A., Aranda, I., Granier, A. et al. Differential impact of the most extreme drought event over the last half century on growth and sap flow in two coexisting Mediterranean trees. Plant Ecol 215, 703–719 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11258-014-0351-x

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  • Extreme drought
  • Pinus nigra
  • Quercus faginea
  • Climate change
  • Mediterranean forests