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Dendrochronology of Central European temperate forest tree species: Effects of long-term climate change trends and short-term weather extremes

  • Forests are key biomes linked to biogeochemical cycles, important species reservoirs and major ecosystem services providers. The observed global climate change in the 20th century has the potential to deeply affect the conservation, functioning and structure of these ecosystems. Expressed as rising average temperatures due to the increase in atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, nitrate oxide and methane, pollutants which are mostly product of burning fuel for industrial activities. These long-term changes will be heterogeneous in time and space throughout the globe. For northeastern Germany, predictions indicate that summer temperature and winter precipitation will be at a constant rise, whereas summer precipitation is expected to decrease, conditions will increase the risk of drought conditions. The changes in long-term means will be accompanied by increased frequency of weather extremes. The overall effect of climate change, both its long- and short-term components and their interaction with forest growth is uncertain. Tree species in the temperate forest are highly adapted to seasonal growth, active in late-spring and summer when temperature thresholds activate primary and secondary growth as well as leaf development, given sufficient water availability. During winter, they become dormant as an strategy to decrease damage by freezing temperatures. These adaptations ultimately determine species distributions as they occur along climate gradients within their ecological optima. Thus climate change can have a significant effect on species distribution ranges and more locally it can change species abundances. Trees being sessile organisms, possess limited dispersal capacities and rely on their adaptation potential, both genetically through selection over generations and through phenotypic plasticity (e.g. the capacity of adapting to changing conditions within a lifetime). Tree growth can be explored by dendrochronological methods, that is, by analyzing traits of annual xylem bands as produced by the vascular cambium. These traits are width, wood anatomical properties (e.g. cell wall thickness, lumen diameter), and isotopic composition. Tree-rings are integrators of environmental conditions and indicators of vitality and productivity of trees and forests. Studying these traits allows to understand the effect of climate on growth and physiological function over decadal to centennial scales in the past and by it inform about future growth performance. However, environmental information is not trivially extracted from tree-rings. Environmental signals in tree-rings are often the result of complex interactions of lagged meteorological conditions and tree-scale characteristics such as size, canopy status (i.e. social status), competition and stand density, among other factors. For this reason the monitoring of secondary growth as it unfolds, for example through dendrometer monitoring (i.e. record of the stem-radial variations at intra-annual temporal scales) and repeated sampling for the study of xylogenesis, is of major importance to understand climate-growth relationships and bridge the gap between dendroecological analysis atdifferent ecological scales (from single trees to stands to populations). Therefore this thesis contains contributions a) to the understanding of long-term climate shifts and its effect on tree growth for species in the Central European temperate forests through dendrochronological assessments and contributions b) to understanding intra-annual growth dynamics and its relationship to meteorological conditions through the analysis of monitoring records. In the retrospective analysis chapters (I-III), first an assessment was performed of the climate-growth relationships of important species of these region which indicated that deciduous species’ growth (Fagus sylvatica, Quercus robur and Q. petreae) was influenced mostly by summer water availability. For Pinus sylvestris was late spring temperature. Negative correlations between winter temperatures and growth indices of deciduous species increased over the last decades, possibly linked to less snow cover of the soil leading to root damage causing growth reductions. Scots pine presented the opposite, as positive correlations with winter temperatures became more frequent, indicating that this species’ growth rates might benefit from an elongation of the vegetation period. Afterwards the effect of stand characteristics in the climate response was explored. The climate signal of solitary oak trees growing in northeastern Germany was compared to oaks in closed stands. Solitary trees expressed higher growth rates and drought signals, which endanger its conservation as dry conditions are expected to increase in the region. As in the temperate forest crowding effects are variable throughout a tree’s lifetime, as well as other limiting factors (e.g. climate), we subsequently developed a methodology based on analysis of individual tree-ring series rather than chronologies (site means) to disentangle these effects on heterogeneous samples and quantify them. By sampling all present crown classes in a site near Rostock (Germany), we found beech was mostly affected by water availability in the previous summer and this effect was well represented throughout the population. For oak the main climatic driver of growth was previous October temperature with a low representation throughout the obtained sample. For beech, the main trait governing the variability around the response to the main climate driver of growth was cambial age, and for oak was crown-projection/size. On the prospective analysis chapters (IV-VI), monitoring datasets from the years 2013-2019 were used for the analysis of meteorological forcing of dendrometer series, the effect of a multi-year drought event and for the development of a method to combine continuous dendrometer records with discrete histological observations from xylogenesis analysis. The analysis of meteorological forcing on stem-radial variations indicated all observed species (beech, oak, hornbeam in this case) respond similarly to atmospheric water content whereas the growth phenology displayed contrasting species differences. These findings indicate high-frequency variations in stem dynamics are similar between species as it reflects transpiration and water transport in the stem, whereas the timing of growth reflects life strategies and wood anatomical adaptations. Next we evaluated the effect of the consecutive drought years 2018-2019 using dendrometer data (beech, oak, hornbeam and sycamore maple). The increment levels after the onset of drought in 2018 were not reduced for the observed individuals, whereas in 2019 all species showed decreased growth levels, particularly beech. Most likely the water moisture reservoirs were adequately filled in winter and spring before summer 2018, which lead to increased buffer capacity to withstand the harsh conditions for radial growth. However in winter, and the spring before the summer of 2019, there was not sufficient precipitation which lead to less resistance to the second bought of the drought event. This illustrates the complex lagged meteorological effect on radial growth, which is easily obscured in retrospective dendroecological analysis and emphasizes the pivotal role of soil moisture and soil water storage in tree-growth analysis. As a final contribution, while recognizing the importance of prospective growth monitoring, we developed a software tool to visualize and combine dendrometer stem-radial variations with images of histological events, such as those obtained by microcores for xylogenesis analysis. Growth signals in dendrometers are often of smaller magnitude than variations related to stem-water dynamics. By comparing them with histological images of wood-formation it is possible to accurately assign growth phases to dendrometer series and optimize their assessment. The advancement in methodological approaches to study intra-annual tree growth data is of major importance in the context of permanent ecological monitoring plots and its role in the assessment of the consequences of climate change on forest growth and conservation. Overall the findings of this thesis indicate that climate change impacts in the temperate forest of Central Europe will be and have been varied depending on the species considered with stand, site and tree-level conditions strongly modulating its consequences and even direction. Deciduous species, particularly beech, will be at risk due to decreased water availability during summer for which beech shows a high sensitivity. While oak seems to be less prone to drought related growth reductions and it is plausible to consider changes in dominance towards drier sites, it is still at risk if vulnerability thresholds are crossed. Scots pine appears to be favored by the increased temperatures during late winter, although these are naturally found on poor sites or sites either too dry or too wet for other dominant deciduous species to establish. Nevertheless, Scots pine has been planted on a variety of site conditions and especially in northeastern Germany is among the most widespread and economically important forest trees. Furthermore, the individual variability we have found in climate responses indicates that heterogeneous stands contain resilient sub-populations that could guarantee survivorship of the species after stark changes in climate means. However, it appears that strong enough stressors such as hotter droughts can trigger wide ecosystem changes with more efficiency than shifts in climate means. Due to this intra-annual growth monitoring is particularly relevant to foretell ecosystem changes and to understand the complex relationships found in climate-growth analysis performed in dendroecological studies, as it permits to mechanistically understand how conditions outside the tree-ring formation period affects wood formation.

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Author:Dr. rer. nat. Roberto Cruz GarcíaORCiD
Title Additional (German):Dendrochronologie der zentraleuropäischen temperierten Wälder: Effekt von langfristigen Klimatrends und kurzfristigen Wetterextremen
Referee:Prof. Martin Wilmking, Prof. Dr. Andreas Bolte
Advisor:Prof. Martin Wilmking
Document Type:Doctoral Thesis
Year of Completion:2021
Date of first Publication:2021/04/29
Granting Institution:Universität Greifswald, Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftliche Fakultät
Date of final exam:2021/02/09
Release Date:2021/04/29
Tag:climate change; dendrochronology; forest ecology; xylogenesis
GND Keyword:Dendrochronologie, Waldökologie, Klimawandel
Page Number:160
Faculties:Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftliche Fakultät / Institut für Botanik und Landschaftsökologie & Botanischer Garten
DDC class:500 Naturwissenschaften und Mathematik / 570 Biowissenschaften; Biologie