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Keywords:

  • basal area increment;
  • climate variability;
  • dendrochronology;
  • European beech;
  • growth variation;
  • old-growth forest;
  • Palmer Drought Severity Index;
  • spline trend;
  • tree-ring analysis

Abstract

Productivity of old-growth beech forests in the Mediterranean Basin was measured by average stem basal area increment (BAI) of dominant trees at two mountain sites in the Italian Apennines. Both forests could be ascribed to the old-growth stage, but they differed markedly with regard to elevation (1000 vs. 1725 m a.s.l.), soil parent material (volcanic vs. calcareous), mean tree age (less than 200 years vs. 300 years), and stand structure (secondary old-growth vs. primary old-growth forest). Drought at the two sites was quantified by the self-calibrated Palmer Moisture Anomaly Index (Z-index), and by the self-calibrating Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) for summer (June through August) and the growing season (May through September). Dendroclimatological analyses revealed a moisture limitation of beech BAI at interannual (water availability measured by Z-index) and decadal scales (water availability measured by PDSI). Both BAI and water availability increased from 1950 to 1970, and decreased afterwards. Trees were grouped according to their BAI trends in auxological groups (growth-type chronologies), which confirmed that growth of most trees at both sites declined in recent decades, in agreement with increased drought. Because BAI is not expected to decrease without an external forcing, the patterns we uncovered suggest that long-term drought stress has reduced the productivity of beech forests in the central Apennines, in agreement with similar trends identified in other Mediterranean mountains, but opposite to growth trends reported for many forests in central Europe.