Warmer springs have increased the frequency and extension of late-frost defoliations in southern European beech forests.
Sangüesa-Barreda G, Di Filippo A, Piovesan G, Rozas V, Di Fiore L, García-Hidalgo M, García-Cervigón AI, Muñoz-Garachana D, Baliva M, Olano JM.
The Science of the total environment. 2021; 775(): 145860

Abstract

Climate change is increasing the frequency of extreme climate events, causing profound impacts on forest function and composition. Late frost defoliation (LFD) events, the loss of photosynthetic tissues due to low temperatures at the start of the growing season, might become more recurrent under future climate scenarios. Therefore, the detection of changes in late-frost risk in response to global change emerges as a high-priority research topic. Here, we used a tree-ring network from southern European beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) forests comprising Spain, Italy and the Austrian Alps, to assess the incidence of LFD events in the last seven decades. We fitted linear-mixed models of basal area increment using different LFD indicators considering warm spring temperatures and late-spring frosts as fixed factors. We reconstructed major LFD events since 1950, matching extreme values of LFD climatic indicators with sharp tree-ring growth reductions. The last LFD events were validated using remote sensing. Lastly, reconstructed LFD events were climatically and spatially characterized. Warm temperatures before the late-spring frost, defined by high values of growing-degree days, influenced beech growth negatively, particularly in the southernmost populations. The number of LFD events increased towards beech southern distribution edge. Spanish and the southernmost Italian beech forests experienced higher frequency of LFD events since the 1990s. Until then, LFD events were circumscribed to local scales, but since that decade, LFD events became widespread, largely affecting the whole beech southwestern distribution area. Our study, based on in-situ evidence, sheds light on the climatic factors driving LFD occurrence and illustrates how increased occurrence and spatial extension of late-spring frosts might constrain future southern European beech forests' growth and functionality. Observed alterations in the climate-phenology interactions in response to climate change represent a potential threat for temperate deciduous forests persistence in their drier/southern distribution edge. CI - Copyright (c) 2021 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.



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