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Keywords:

  • climatic variability;
  • dendroclimatology;
  • global warming;
  • growth pattern change;
  • Iberian peninsula;
  • Pinus nigra;
  • P. sylvestris;
  • P. uncinata;
  • species distribution limit;
  • water stress

Abstract

Tree populations located at the geographical distribution limit of the species may provide valuable information about tree-growth response to changes on climatic conditions. We established nine Pinus nigra, 12 P. sylvestris and 17 P. uncinata tree-ring width chronologies along the eastern and northern Iberian Peninsula, where these species are found at the edge of their natural range. Tree-growth variability was analyzed using principal component analysis (PCA) for the period 1885–1992. Despite the diversity of species, habitats and climatic regimes, a common macroclimatic signal expressed by the first principal component (PC1) was found. Moreover, considering the PC1 scores as a regional chronology, significant relations were established with Spanish meteorological data. The shared variance held by the tree chronologies, the frequency of narrow rings and the interannual growth variability (sensitivity) increased markedly during the studied period. This shows an enhancement of growth synchrony among forests indicating that climate might have become more limiting to growth. Noticeably, an upward abrupt shift in common variability at the end of the first half of the 20th century was detected. On the other hand, moving-interval response functions showed a change in the growth–climate relationships during the same period. The relationship between growth and late summer/autumn temperatures of the year before growth (August–September, negative correlation, and November, positive correlation) became stronger. Hence, water stress increase during late summer previous to tree growth could be linked to the larger growth synchrony among sites, suggesting that climate was driving the growth pattern changes. This agrees with the upward trend in temperature observed in these months. Moreover, the higher occurrence of extreme years and the sensitivity increase in the second half of the 20th century were in agreement with an increment in precipitation variability during the growing period. Precipitation variability was positively related to tree-growth variability, but negatively to radial growth. In conclusion, a change in tree-growth pattern and in the climatic response of the studied forests was detected since the mid-20th century and linked to an increase in water stress. These temporal trends were in agreement with the observed increase in warmer conditions and in precipitation variability.