• Castanea sativa;
  • earlywood;
  • environmental signal;
  • ring porous;
  • southern Swiss Alps;
  • tree rings;
  • vessel size


  • • 
    The aim of this study was to identify the climatic signal contained in the earlywood vessel size of the ring-porous chestnut (Castanea sativa) and the physiological processes involved in the underlying mechanisms.
  • • 
    In order to assign the encoded signal to a specific physiological process, bud phenology and vessel formation were monitored along an elevation transect and chronologies of the size of the first row of earlywood vessels were retrospectively correlated with 40 yr of early spring temperatures.
  • • 
    The first vessels appeared in late April to early May, after encoding both a negative temperature signal in February–March (during tree quiescence) and a positive temperature signal in early April (at the time of resumption of shoot growth).
  • • 
    We hypothesize that February and March temperatures affect cambial sensitivity to auxin, preconditioning tree responses later in the season. Furthermore, April temperature is related to tree activation whereby new hormone production fosters vessel expansion.