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Keywords:

  • Nitrogen;
  • carbon;
  • stable isotopes;
  • water potential;
  • yield;
  • European beech;
  • Southeastern Europe

Abstract: To assess the physiological performance of drought-sensitive European beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) under the dry Mediterranean climate prevailing at its southeastern distribution limit in Europe, we analyzed seasonal changes in carbon, nitrogen and water balance of naturally grown adult trees. We determined the foliar C and N contents, δ13C and δ18O signatures, total soluble non-protein nitrogen compounds (TSNN) in xylem, leaves, and phloem, as well as leaf water potential and photosynthetic quantum yield in northern Greece during 2003. Tissue sampling was performed in May, July, and September, while field measurements were conducted regularly. Climatic conditions for the 2003 growing season fall within the typical range of the studied area. The N- and C-related parameters displayed distinct seasonal courses. TSNN was highest in May in all tissues, and asparagine (Asn) was then the most abundant compound. Thereafter, TSNN decreased significantly in all tissues and both its concentration and composition remained constant in July and September. In both months, glutamate (Glu) prevailed in leaves, γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in phloem exudates from twigs and trunks, and arginine (Arg) in the xylem sap, where loading with amino acids was rather low during that period, amounting to only 0.8 μmol N ml-1 in September. Highest total foliar N and C contents were detected in May, and the elevated abundance of nutrients as well as an increased foliar δ13C signature at the beginning of the growing season is attributed to remobilization processes. The signatures of δ18O, quantum yield and leaf water potentials varied only slightly throughout the growing season. Although summer precipitation at the study site was considerably lower compared to what is usual for typical central European beech forests, no intensive drought responses of the physiological apparatus were detected in the studied beech trees. This suggests efficient internal regulation mechanisms, constantly ensuring a favourable physiological status under the relatively dry Mediterranean climate.