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Keywords:

  • climatic extremes;
  • common beech;
  • intrasite variability;
  • Norway spruce;
  • populations;
  • resilience;
  • silver fir;
  • tree ring

Abstract

The future performance of native tree species under climate change conditions is frequently discussed, since increasingly severe and more frequent drought events are expected to become a major risk for forest ecosystems. To improve our understanding of the drought tolerance of the three common European temperate forest tree species Norway spruce, silver fir and common beech, we tested the influence of climate and tree-specific traits on the inter and intrasite variability in drought responses of these species. Basal area increment data from a large tree-ring network in Southern Germany and Alpine Austria along a climatic cline from warm-dry to cool-wet conditions were used to calculate indices of tolerance to drought events and their variability at the level of individual trees and populations. General patterns of tolerance indicated a high vulnerability of Norway spruce in comparison to fir and beech and a strong influence of bioclimatic conditions on drought response for all species. On the level of individual trees, low-growth rates prior to drought events, high competitive status and low age favored resilience in growth response to drought. Consequently, drought events led to heterogeneous and variable response patterns in forests stands. These findings may support the idea of deliberately using spontaneous selection and adaption effects as a passive strategy of forest management under climate change conditions, especially a strong directional selection for more tolerant individuals when frequency and intensity of summer droughts will increase in the course of global climate change.