Xylem anatomy of Robinia pseudoacacia L. and Quercus robur L. is differently affected by climate in a temperate alluvial forest


Key message

Xylem hydraulic traits of native Quercus robur are more sensitive to previous-summer drought than those of alien Robinia pseudoacacia. The latter modulates vessel traits and ring porosity to cope with inter-annual climate variability, and is less affected by extreme events. This suggests that R. pseudoacacia might be more competitive under future drier conditions.


Forest management strategies require knowledge on how co-occurring native and alien species respond to unprecedented climate conditions, which can severely affect xylem conductivity and tree performance.


We aimed at quantitatively comparing xylem anatomical traits of co-occurring native Quercus robur and alien Robinia pseudoacacia and assessing similarities and differences in their response to climate variability.


We analyzed tree-ring anatomy and built chronologies of several parameters related to vessel number, size, and theoretical conductivity. Mean chronologies for each parameter were correlated to monthly temperature and precipitation data for the period 1954–2005 and within 30-year moving windows. We also assessed responses to extreme conditions in 2003.


Quercus robur showed typical ring-porous vessel distribution, while R. pseudoacacia modulated vessel size and number year by year, frequently showing semi-ring porous appearance. Previous rainy summers increased size of large vessels in Q. robur, and number of large vessels in R. pseudoacacia. In winter, R. pseudoacacia was sensitive to water excess. High temperature in March increased vessel size in Q. robur, but reduced it in R. pseudoacacia. The 2003 summer heatwave strongly reduced vessel size and number in the following year in Q. robur, but had much less effect on R. pseudoacacia.


Quercus robur xylem traits are more influenced by both inter-annual climate variability and extreme events than those of R. pseudoacacia. Lower performance under dry conditions might reduce competitiveness of Q. robur in the future, slowing down the natural replacement of the invasive pioneer R. pseudoacacia by later-stage Q. robur.

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Correspondence to Paola Nola.

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The dataset generated during the current study is available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

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The field work and the sampling activities within “Siro Negri” State Natural Reserve were conducted under the explicit permission of the Director of the protected area.

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Contributions of the co-authors PN designed the study. PN, FB and SA conducted field work. PN, GvA, and DC processed the samples and analyzed data. PN and DC wrote the first paper draft. All authors contributed to discussion of results and writing the manuscript.

This article is part of the topical collection on Wood formation and tree adaptation to climateRisk Analysis

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Fig. 8

Climate diagram from Pavia meteorological station

Fig. 9

Scree plot from PCA of tree-ring width and vessel parameters. The Y-axis represents the percentage of variance explained by each component (solid line). The dashed line represents the superimposed Broken-Stick Model

Fig. 10

Pearson’s correlations between tree-ring and vessel parameters and the first three principal components. Dotted lines indicate the level of significant correlation. Acronyms are explained in Table 2

Fig. 11

Pearson’s correlations between ring width and vessel chronologies for each species. Correlation values are coded according to the key at the bottom. Acronyms are explained in Table 2

Fig. 12

Inter-species correlations for each tree-ring width and vessel chronology. Dotted lines indicate the level of significant correlation and solid bars refer to significant values. Acronyms are explained in Table 2

Fig. 13

Moving correlation with a 30-year window between all the anatomical parameters and the most significant climatic variables. Months of the previous year are in lowercase letters. R values are coded according to the key at the bottom. Acronyms are explained in Table 2

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Nola, P., Bracco, F., Assini, S. et al. Xylem anatomy of Robinia pseudoacacia L. and Quercus robur L. is differently affected by climate in a temperate alluvial forest. Annals of Forest Science 77, 8 (2020).

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  • Alien species
  • Black locust
  • Climate response
  • Drought
  • Pedunculate oak
  • Tree-ring anatomy
  • Vessel