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Tracking the impact of drought on functionally different woody plants in a Mediterranean scrubland ecosystem


Climate warming is predicted to amplify drought stress. Thus, it is important to understand how coexisting plant species respond to severe droughts. Here we study how seven Mediterranean woody plant species with different evolutionary history and functional characteristics (Pinus halepensis Mill., Juniperus phoenicea L., Pistacia lentiscus L., Rhamnus lycioides L., Rosmarinus officinalis L., Genista scorpius (L.) DC., and Globularia alypum L.) responded to a severe winter drought during 2011–2012 in Spain. The study site is located in the Valcuerna valley, Monegros desert, northeastern Spain. We evaluated how the drought affected the annual growth-ring formation of the species by using dendrochronology and quantified the intensity of drought-induced defoliation and mortality and compared it between species and groups of species with different evolutionary history. Radial growth of all species was strongly reduced by the 2012 drought. The pre-Mediterranean species (P. halepensis, J. phoenicea, P. lentiscus and R. lycioides) reduced growth more than the Mediterranean species (R. officinalis, G. scorpius and G. alypum). Defoliation was significantly higher in pre-Mediterranean than in Mediterranean species. When species were analyzed separately we found that P. halepensis was the species with the highest growth reduction but J. phoenicea was defoliated more severely and showed higher mortality rates as a consequence of drought. In the case of the Mediterranean shrubs, drought-induced mortality was only noticeable in R. officinalis. Drought impacted growth of all species but this did not induce mortality in all of them. Growth reduction was dependent on evolutionary history. However, functional characteristics of the species such as leaf stomatal regulation and root architecture may be more important than evolutionary history on explaining drought-induced mortality. Indeed, species with shallow root systems such as J. phoenicea and R. officinalis were the most adversely affected by the drought.

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We sincerely thank Prof. F. Lloret for guiding us through the interesting Valcuerna site and for alerting us on the juniper die-off. A. Gazol is supported by a Postdoctoral grant from Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (Contrato Formación Postdoctoral MINECO, FPDI 2013-16600). We acknowledge the funding provided by the FUNDIVER project (CGL2015-69186-C2-1-R, Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness and FEDER funds).

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Correspondence to Antonio Gazol.

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Communicated by Jan Wunder.

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Gazol, A., Sangüesa-Barreda, G., Granda, E. et al. Tracking the impact of drought on functionally different woody plants in a Mediterranean scrubland ecosystem. Plant Ecol 218, 1009–1020 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11258-017-0749-3

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  • Annual growth rings
  • Defoliation
  • Dendrochronology
  • Growth decline
  • Mortality
  • Shrub