Site- and species-specific responses of forest growth to climate across the European continent


  • Editor: Martin Sykes



To evaluate the climate sensitivity of model-based forest productivity estimates using a continental-scale tree-ring network.


Europe and North Africa (30–70° N, 10° W–40° E).


We compiled close to 1000 annually resolved records of radial tree growth for all major European tree species and quantified changes in growth as a function of historical climatic variation. Sites were grouped using a neural network clustering technique to isolate spatiotemporal and species-specific climate response patterns. The resulting empirical climate sensitivities were compared with the sensitivities of net primary production (NPP) estimates derived from the ORCHIDEE-FM and LPJ-wsl dynamic global vegetation models (DGVMs).


We found coherent biogeographic patterns in climate response that depend upon (1) phylogenetic controls and (2) ambient environmental conditions delineated by latitudinal/elevational location. Temperature controls dominate forest productivity in high-elevation and high-latitude areas whereas moisture sensitive sites are widespread at low elevation in central and southern Europe. DGVM simulations broadly reproduce the empirical patterns, but show less temperature sensitivity in the boreal zone and stronger precipitation sensitivity towards the mid-latitudes.

Main conclusions

Large-scale forest productivity is driven by monthly to seasonal climate controls, but our results emphasize species-specific growth patterns under comparable environmental conditions. Furthermore, we demonstrate that carry-over effects from the previous growing season can significantly influence tree growth, particularly in areas with harsh climatic conditions – an element not considered in most current-state DGVMs. Model–data discrepancies suggest that the simulated climate sensitivity of NPP will need refinement before carbon-cycle climate feedbacks can be accurately quantified.