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Keywords:

  • climatic variation;
  • drought;
  • growth patterns;
  • likelihood to death;
  • Nothofagus dombeyi;
  • response function;
  • sensitivity;
  • tree mortality;
  • tree rings

Summary

  • 1
    Although climatic variability is a strong driving force for forest dynamics, drought-induced mortality has generally received much less attention than other types of disturbance.
  • 2
    In 1998–99 northern Patagonia was affected by one of the most severe droughts of the 20th century, coinciding with a strong La Nina event, and this caused high mortality of Nothofagus dombeyi (coihue), the dominant tree species in Nahuel Huapi National Park.
  • 3
    Factors involved in determining this mortality of N. dombeyi were examined at both patch and tree level. Radial growth characteristics of killed trees and survivors were compared by dendrochronological analyses. Relationships between growth and climate were investigated using response function analysis.
  • 4
    At the tree scale, individuals with variable growth were more prone to die from drought than trees with more regular growth. Juveniles whose growth patterns showed sensitivity to climate were particularly likely to die. However, among both killed trees and survivors, older trees were less sensitive to climate.
  • 5
    Mean growth rate was a good predictor of mortality in adult trees, showing that trees with slower growth rate were more susceptible to drought. Susceptible trees may have been negatively affected by the drought that affected northern Patagonia in 1956–57.
  • 6
    These results underscore the importance of considering drought-induced tree mortality as a non-random mechanism influenced by site, previous stress/disturbance history, ontogeny, vigour, climatic sensitivity and physiology. Spatial patterns of extensive full and partial crown dieback, which are evident in many temperate forests worldwide, may reflect the superposition of these predisposing factors on strong/repeated interannual fluctuations of climate.