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Keywords:

  • basal area increment (BAI);
  • climate change;
  • climate-growth responses;
  • CO2 fertilization;
  • dendroecology;
  • drought;
  • Pinus sylvestris (Scots pine);
  • tree growth;
  • tree rings;
  • water availability

Abstract

Stem radial growth responds to environmental conditions, and has been widely used as a proxy to study long-term patterns of tree growth and to assess the impact of environmental changes on growth patterns. In this study, we use a tree ring dataset from the Catalan Ecological and Forest Inventory to study the temporal variability of Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) stem growth during the 20th century across a relatively large region (Catalonia, NE Spain) close to the southern limit of the distribution of the species. Basal area increment (BAI) was modelled as a function of tree size and environmental variables by means of mixed effects models. Our results showed an overall increase of 84% in Scots pine BAI during the 20th century, consistent with most previous studies for temperate forests. This trend was associated with increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations and, possibly, with a general increase in nutrient availability, and we interpreted it as a fertilization effect. Over the same time period, there was also a marked increase in temperature across the study region (0.19 °C per decade on average). This warming had a negative impact on radial growth, particularly at the drier sites, but its magnitude was not enough to counteract the fertilization effect. In fact, the substantial warming observed during the 20th century in the study area did not result in a clear pattern of increased summer drought stress because of the large variability in precipitation, which did not show any clear time trend. But the situation may change in the future if temperatures continue to rise and/or precipitation becomes scarcer. Such a change could potentially reverse the temporal trend in growth, particularly at the driest sites, and is suggested in our data by the relative constancy of radial growth after ca. 1975, coinciding with the warmer period. If this situation is representative of other relatively dry, temperate forests, the implications for the regional carbon balance would be substantial.