Know Your Neighbours: Drought Response of Norway Spruce, Silver Fir and Douglas Fir in Mixed Forests Depends on Species Identity and Diversity of Tree Neighbourhoods

Abstract

Norway spruce is a widely cultivated species in Central Europe; however, it is highly susceptible to droughts, which are predicted to become more frequent in the future. A solution to adapt spruce forests to droughts could be the conversion to mixed-species stands containing species which are less sensitive to drought and do not increase the drought stress in spruce. Here we assessed the drought response of spruce and the presumably more drought-tolerant silver fir and Douglas fir in mixed-conifer stands. We measured tree ring widths of 270 target trees, which grew in mixed and mono-specific neighbourhoods in 18 managed stands in the Black Forest, to quantify the complementarity effects caused by species interactions on growth during the extreme drought event of 2003 and for a number of years with “normal” growth and climatic conditions. Mixed-species neighbourhoods did not significantly affect tree ring growth in normal years. However, during the drought, silver fir benefitted from mixing, while Douglas fir was more drought-stressed in the mixture. The drought response of spruce was dependent on the density and species composition of the neighbourhood, showing both positive and negative mixing effects. Mixed stands containing these tree species could improve adaptation to drought because the risks of extreme events are spread across species, and the performance of individual species is improved. Our knowledge about specific species interactions needs to be improved to manage tree mixtures more effectively with regard to the participating species and stand density.

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Acknowledgements

This study was financially supported through a KLIMOPASS Grant (No. 4500354096/23) provided by the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Environment, Climate and Energy to Jürgen Bauhus. The authors thank the generous support of ForstBW, the competent forestry districts and foresters without whom the project would have not been possible. Further thanks go to Dr. Rüdiger Unseld, Thomas Weich, Audrey Louy, Clara Arranz and Raphaële Piché for their support of field work.

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Correspondence to Valentina Vitali.

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V.V. developed the study design, performed research, analysed data and wrote the paper. D.F. contributed to methods and models development and co-wrote the paper. J.B. conceived the study idea, developed the study design and co-wrote the paper.

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Vitali, V., Forrester, D.I. & Bauhus, J. Know Your Neighbours: Drought Response of Norway Spruce, Silver Fir and Douglas Fir in Mixed Forests Depends on Species Identity and Diversity of Tree Neighbourhoods. Ecosystems 21, 1215–1229 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-017-0214-0

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Keywords

  • Abies alba
  • biodiversity
  • climate change
  • dendroecology
  • drought stress
  • Europe
  • forest management
  • mixed forest
  • Picea abies
  • Pseudotsuga menziesii