An experimentally controlled extreme drought in a Norway spruce forest reveals fast hydraulic response and subsequent recovery of growth rates
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An experimental drought treatment, exacerbated by a natural drought event, compromised growth in Norway spruce, but more cavitation-resistant xylem was produced and no long-term growth reductions were observed.
An experimental drought treatment in a mature Norway spruce forest that coincided with a rare drought event in southern Sweden in 1992, allowed us to study how such forests may respond to similar extreme events in the future. Immediately after the onset of the drought treatment, height and diameter growth decreased compared to control treatments. New xylem cells had smaller lumen und thicker walls, resulting in a more safety-orientated water transport system. The maximum growth and hydraulic system response of the 1990–1996 drought treatment coincided with the 1992 summer drought event. After the drought treatment ended, all measured traits recovered to control and irrigation treatment values after 3 years. While height and diameter growth recovered with delay, wood structure and hydraulic properties showed fast recovery. We conclude that a highly plastic response of the hydraulic system indicates a notable degree of resilience to droughts that are expected to become more common under climate change. Our results do not imply, however, that survival and productivity of Norway spruce plantations would not be compromised under drier conditions in the future, and they apply to site conditions equivalent to the studied system.
KeywordsDrought response Resilience Plasticity Wood structure Wood density Hydraulic architecture Norway spruce Sweden
The authors are grateful to the management of the Skogaby-project, Ulf Johansson and Thomas Binder for their support during the tree sampling. We thank Felix Baab and Clemens Koch for sample preparation. Comments by anonymous reviewers, Miriam Isaac-Renton and Marieke van der Maaten-Theunissen helped improve an earlier version of this manuscript.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
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