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Keywords:

  • BAI;
  • basal area increment;
  • climate change;
  • drought;
  • European beech;
  • geographical range;
  • Mediterranean;
  • range edge

Abstract

Studies on Fagus sylvatica show that growth in populations toward the southern limit of this species' distribution is limited strongly by drought. Warming temperatures in the Mediterranean region are expected to exacerbate drought where they are not accompanied by increases in precipitation. We studied levels of annual growth in mature F. sylvatica trees over the last half-century in the Montseny Mountains in Catalonia (northeast Spain). Our results show significantly lower growth of mature trees at the lower limit of this species' distribution when compared with trees at higher altitudes. Growth at the lower Fagus limit is characterized by a rapid recent decline starting in approximately 1975. By 2003, growth of mature trees had fallen by 49% when compared with predecline levels. This is not an age-related phenomenon, nor is it seen in comparable populations at higher altitudes. Analysis of climate-growth relationships suggests that the observed decline in growth is a result of warming temperatures and that, as precipitation in the region has not increased, precipitation is now insufficient to ameliorate the negative effects of increased temperatures on tree growth. As the climate-response of the studied forest is comparable with that of F. sylvatica forests in other southern European regions, it is possible that this growth decline is a more widespread phenomenon. Warming temperatures may lead to a rapid decline in the growth of range-edge populations and a consequent retreat of the species distribution in southern Europe. Assessment of long-term growth trends across the southern range edge of F. sylvatica therefore merits further attention.