Low resistance but high resilience in growth of a major deciduous forest tree (Fagus sylvatica L.) in response to late spring frost in southern Germany
European beech showed low resistance but high resilience in radial growth after an extreme late frost event. Site-specific growth reductions correlated with absolute minimum temperature in May.
Late spring frost events occurring after the early leaf unfolding (“false spring”) can result in severe leaf damages in deciduous trees. With climate warming, such damages may occur more frequently due to an earlier start of the growing season. While affected, mature trees usually survive, but radial and height growth after the late frost has rarely been quantified in relation to the magnitude of the frost events. The effects of a severe late frost event in the early May 2011, following a warm spring and early bud break, was quantified for European beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) at 7 forest stands in Bavaria, Germany. Resistance and resilience of tree growth were quantified based on tree-ring widths of 135 trees. Resistance to the late frost event (comparing tree-ring width in the frost year with the previous 5 years) was on average reduced by 46%. Resistance was positively correlated with May minimum temperature at the study sites, indicating a relationship between growth reduction and frost severity. Partial least-square linear models based on monthly climate data (precipitation, temperature, potential evapotranspiration, and the Standardized Precipitation Evapotranspiration Index) could not explain the growth reduction in 2011, thereby providing evidence for the importance of frost damages on annual growth. F. sylvatica showed high resilience after the frost year, with tree-ring widths in the subsequent years being comparable to the previous years. This study suggests that frost events may strongly reduce growth of F. sylvatica in the event year, but that carry-over effects on the radial growth of subsequent years are not likely.
KeywordsDendroecology Tree rings False spring European beech Frost damage
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