Wood anatomical responses of oak saplings exposed to air warming and soil drought


  • Editor
    M. Günthardt-Goerg

P. Fonti, Swiss Federal Research Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL, Zürcherstrasse 111, CH-8903 Birmensdorf, Switzerland.
E-mail: patrick.fonti@wsl.ch


Water is vital for plant performance and survival. Its scarcity, induced by a seasonal decline in soil water availability or an increase of evaporative demand, can cause failures of the water conducting system. An adequate tolerance to drought and the ability to acclimate to changing hydraulic conditions are important features for the survival of long-lived woody plants in dry environments. In this study we examine secondary growth and xylem anatomical acclimation of 6 year old saplings of three European oak species (Quercus robur, Q. petraea, Q. pubescens) during the third consecutive year of exposure to soil drought and/or air warming (from 2007 to 2009). Intra-annual pinning was applied to mark the development of the formation of the annual ring 2009. Vessel size, parenchyma cell density and fiber size produced at different time of the growing season 2009 were compared between drought and warming treatments and species. Drought reduced secondary growth and induced changes in xylem structure while air warming had little effect on wood anatomical traits. Results indicate that drought-exposed saplings adjust their xylem structure to improve resistance and repairing abilities after cavitation. All species show a significant radial growth reduction, a reduced vessel size with diminished conductivity and a slightly increased density of parenchyma cells. Comparisons between species fostered our understanding of the relationship between the inter-specific xylem hydraulic plasticity and the ecological response to drought. The stronger changes observed for Q. robur and Q. petraea indicate a lower drought tolerance than Q. pubescens.