Factors predisposing episodic drought-induced tree mortality in Nothofagus– site, climatic sensitivity and growth trends

Authors

  • MARIA LAURA SUAREZ,

    Corresponding author
    1. Laboratorio Ecotono, Centro Regional Universitario Bariloche, Universidad Nacional del Comahue, Quintral 1250, 8400, Bariloche, Argentina
    Search for more papers by this author
  • LUCIANA GHERMANDI,

    1. Laboratorio Ecotono, Centro Regional Universitario Bariloche, Universidad Nacional del Comahue, Quintral 1250, 8400, Bariloche, Argentina
    Search for more papers by this author
  • THOMAS KITZBERGER

    1. Laboratorio Ecotono, Centro Regional Universitario Bariloche, Universidad Nacional del Comahue, Quintral 1250, 8400, Bariloche, Argentina
    Search for more papers by this author

Maria Laura Suarez (tel. +54 2944 423374; fax +54 2944 426368; e-mail mlsuarez@crub.uncoma.edu.ar).

Summary

  • 1Although climatic variability is a strong driving force for forest dynamics, drought-induced mortality has generally received much less attention than other types of disturbance.
  • 2In 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.
  • 3Factors 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.
  • 4At 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.
  • 5Mean 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.
  • 6These 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.

Ancillary