Annals of Forest Science

, Volume 70, Issue 4, pp 329–343 | Cite as

When tree rings behave like foam: moderate historical decrease in the mean ring density of common beech paralleling a strong historical growth increase

  • Jean-Daniel BontempsEmail author
  • Pierre Gelhaye
  • Gérard Nepveu
  • Jean-Christophe Hervé
Original Paper



While historical increases in forest growth have been largely documented, investigations on historical wood density changes remain anecdotic. They suggest possible density decreases in softwoods and ring-porous hardwoods, but are lacking for diffuse-porous hardwoods.


To evaluate the historical change in mean ring density of common beech, in a regional context where a ring-porous hardwood and a softwood have been studied, and assess the additional effect of past historical increases in radial growth (+50 % over 100 years), resulting from the existence of a positive ring size–density relationship in broadleaved species.


Seventy-four trees in 28 stands were sampled in Northeastern France to accurately separate developmental stage and historical signals in ring attributes. First, the historical change in mean ring density at 1.30 m (X-ray microdensitometry) was estimated statistically, at constant developmental stage and ring width. The effect of past growth increases was then added to assess the net historical change in wood density.


A progressive centennial decrease in mean ring density of −55 kg m−3 (−7.5 %) was identified (−10 % following the most recent decline). The centennial growth increase induced a maximum +25 kg m−3 increase in mean ring density, whose net variation thus remained negative (−30 kg m−3).


This finding of a moderate but significant decrease in wood density that exceeds the effect of the positive growth change extends earlier reports obtained on other wood patterns in a same regional context and elsewhere. Despite their origin not being understood, such decreases hence form an issue for forest carbon accounting.


Fagus sylvatica Wood density X-ray microdensitometry Historical change Ring width Growth change 



The authors gratefully thank an anonymous reviewer and the Editor-in-chief of this journal for their helpful comments to clarify a previous version of this manuscript. We also wish to thank Dr Frédéric Mothe (INRA) for his advice on microdensitometric measurements, and Dr Jean-Michel Leban and Dr Tony Franceschini (INRA) for stimulating discussions on wood density variations and their determinants. The first author dedicates this article to Suzanne Bontemps born Tisserand (d. 13 March 2012).

Supplementary material

13595_2013_263_MOESM1_ESM.doc (30 kb)
Electronic supplementary material 1 DOC 29.5 kb


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Copyright information

© INRA and Springer-Verlag France 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jean-Daniel Bontemps
    • 1
    • 2
    • 4
    Email author
  • Pierre Gelhaye
    • 1
    • 2
  • Gérard Nepveu
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jean-Christophe Hervé
    • 3
  1. 1.AgroParisTech, ENGREF, UMR 1092 INRA-AgroParisTechLERFoB (Laboratoire d’Etude des Ressources Forêt-Bois)NancyFrance
  2. 2.INRA, UMR 1092 INRA-AgroParisTechLERFoB (Laboratoire d’Etude des Ressources Forêt-Bois)ChampenouxFrance
  3. 3.Institut National de l’Information Géographique et Forestière, IGNNancyFrance
  4. 4.AgroParisTech, LERFoBÉquipe Ecologie ForestièreNancyFrance

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