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Survival of Douglas-fir provenances in Austria: site-specific late and early frost events are more important than provenance origin


Key message

Autumn and spring frost events caused wide variation in the survival of juvenile Douglas-fir in Austrian forest sites located in the transition zone from Atlantic to continental climate. Survival rate can be optimized by planting provenances originating from an altitudinal belt of 500–1400 m in North America. Neither the variety nor the climate of origin of planted Douglas-fir provenances influence its response to frost events.


Understanding the risks of frost during late spring and early autumn is crucial for planting non-native Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii [Mirbel] Franco) as an alternative tree species under climate change in Europe.


We investigate the role of early and late frost events on the survival of juvenile Douglas-fir and tested whether survival depends on seed origin.


With data from 19 provenance trials across Austria, we modeled the effects of early and late frost events on juvenile survival rate, accounting for random variations due to site condition and provenance origin.


Wide variations (37–93%) in the juvenile survival rate of Douglas-fir were mainly driven by early and late frost events (daily Tmin < 0 °C), summer drought, and continentality. Juvenile survival declined with an increasing number of frost events within the observation period and prevailing warm spells preceding the frost events. The seed origin of the tested provenances had a minor effect and was related to the altitude, but not to the variety or the climate of provenance origin.


For planting Douglas-fir in the transition zone from Atlantic to continental climates, typical in Austrian forests, the local site conditions and the probability of the occurrence of early and late frosts should be considered, while provenance selection should rather focus on productivity.

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Statement on data availability

The datasets generated and/or analyzed during the current study are available in the Figshare repository (Chakraborty et al. 2018) at https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.6632999.v2


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We acknowledge the support of all present and former colleagues of BFW, Vienna who undertook field measurement at the Douglas-fir trials within the last four decades.


The study was funded by the Austrian Climate Research Program ACRP 4th Call for Proposals, Project no. B175092 (KR11AC0K00386).

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Correspondence to Debojyoti Chakraborty.

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Contribution of the co-authors

DC: did the analysis and wrote the manuscript, CM & KA: provided climate data, LW: performed measurement of provenance trials and recorded observations, SS: conceived the research, reviewed analysis and manuscript

This article is part of the topical collection on Forest Adaptation and Restoration under Global Change

Handling Editor: Andreas Bolte



Fig. 7

Provenance clusters. The provenances planted in the Austrian trials were clustered into three provenance or seed origin attributes based on A variety of Douglas-fir, B altitude of provenance origin, C climate of provenance origin. The climatic cluster was based on PCA of all the 20 bioclimatic variables (see Table 1) of provenance origin and thereafter K-means clustering of the first three principal components into four groups

Fig. 8

Schematic example of the frost variables in a year over 10 years of inventory period. All variables were calculated with respect to an inventory period which refers time from to trial establishment till trial inventory at trial age of 10 years. Inventory period different in each trial because of their establishment dates. This is demonstrated as an example of a few late frost variables as given below. Late frost months = May and June. Early frost months = July to Sep. LF1 = Number of days with late frost events in the inventory period. There are 3 days with Tmin < 0 °C, so LF1 = 3. LF3 = Absolute minimum temperature of late frost events within the inventory period. 29 May has the lowest Tmin of − 4 °C, so LF3 = − 4 °C. LF4 = Mean temperature of the day on which the absolute minimum temperature (LF3) in the inventory period occurred. Tmean on 29 May is 1 °C, therefore LF4 = 1 °C. LF5 = Maximum number of late frost events within a single year of the inventory period, e.g., if two events occurred in 1966 (− 0.7, − 1.2) and one in 1969 (− 3.4) than LF5 = 2

Fig. 9

Early and late frost events in Pötsching (47.763°N, 16.359°E) in East of Austria which experiences strong continental conditions. During the inventory period covering 1973 to 1975, the site experiences on late 16th of May 1973 where minimum temperature drops from 12 to − 2.5 °C on a single day and an early frost event on 30 Sep where minimum temperature drops from 8 to − 1.2 °C. Early (May–June) and late frost (July-Sep) are marked in blue and gray boxes, respectively. ★ Represents frost events during spring and autumn

Table 4 Provenance trials analyzed in this paper. The shaded cells represent the inventory period, i.e., the time from trial establishment until the latest survival assessment. The climate variables related to mean weather conditions and early and late frosts were calculated across these inventory periods

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Chakraborty, D., Matulla, C., Andre, K. et al. Survival of Douglas-fir provenances in Austria: site-specific late and early frost events are more important than provenance origin. Annals of Forest Science 76, 100 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13595-019-0883-2

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  • Climate change
  • Pseudotsuga menziesii
  • Provenance trial
  • Extreme events
  • Early frost
  • Late frost
  • Survival