Impacts of Multiple Environmental Change Drivers on Growth of European Beech (Fagus sylvatica): Forest History Matters

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Revealing the interactive effects of multiple environmental change drivers (water deficits, nitrogen (N) deposition, land-use change) is crucial for evaluating actual and possible future changes in forest ecosystem functioning. Here, we analyse whether and to what extent combined effects of spring and summer water deficits and variable amounts of N deposition affect radial growth of beech trees growing on forest sites with a different forest history. Dendrochronological data showed that trees growing on ancient forest sites (forest continuity > 200 years) exhibit a higher negative growth response under high N deposition and simultaneous spring water deficits than trees growing on recent (post-agricultural) forest sites. Based on additional analyses of the fine root system and masting behaviour, we propose two different mechanisms to explain differing influences of N deposition and water deficits on negative radial growth responses in recent and ancient forests: (1) for both forest history types, growth reductions during summer water deficits result from the antagonistic effects of elevated N deposition according to the ‘resource optimization hypothesis’. The tendency towards higher negative growth responses in recent forests seems to be caused by a higher fine root mortality and lower standing fine root biomass compared to ancient forests; (2) higher growth reductions in ancient forests during spring water deficits are likely the result of mass fructification, which is enhanced by N deposition. We conclude that nutrient cycling may differ between forests with contrasting forest history, which can modulate the growth trajectories of forests in response to multiple, co-occurring environmental changes.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)529-540
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 01.04.2020

    Research areas

  • Ecosystems Research - ancient forests, climate change, European beech, mast event, nutrient cycling, phosphorus legacy effect, recent forests, reproduction-growth trade-off