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Lengthening of the duration of xylogenesis engenders disproportionate increases in xylem production



In cold climates, the expected global warming will lead to earlier cambial resumptions in spring, with a resultant lengthening of the growing season but unknown consequences on forest productivity. The phenological traits of cambium activity and xylem formation were analyzed at a short time scale along a thermal gradient represented by an alti-latitudinal range from the 48th to 53rd parallels and covering the whole closed black-spruce [Picea mariana (Mill.) BSP] forest in Quebec, Canada. A hypothesis was tested that warmer temperatures influence cambium phenology, allowing longer duration and higher intensity of growth, and resulting in proportionally increased xylem production. From April to October 2012, cell division in cambium and post-cambial differentiation of xylem were observed on anatomical sections obtained from microcores collected weekly from the stem of fifty trees. The southern and warmer site was characterized by the highest radial growth, which corresponded to both the highest rates and longest durations of cell production. The differences in terms of xylem phenology and growth were marginal between the other sites. Xylem growth was positively correlated with rate and duration of cell production, with the latter explaining most variability in growth. Within the range analyzed, the relationship between temperature and most phenological phases of xylogenesis was linear. On the contrary, temperature was related with cell production according to an exponential pattern. Periods of xylogenesis of 14 days longer (+13.1%) corresponded to a massive increase in cell production (33 cells, +109%). This disproportionate change occurred at a May–September average temperature of ca. 14 °C and a snow-free period of 210–235 days. At the lower boundary of the distribution of black spruce, small environmental changes allowing marginal lengthening of the period of cell division could potentially lead to disproportionate increases in xylem cell production, with substantial consequences for the productivity of this boreal species.