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Tree Physiol. 2012 Apr;32(4):401-13. doi: 10.1093/treephys/tps026. Epub 2012 Apr 16.

Xylem hydraulic adjustment and growth response of Quercus canariensis Willd. to climatic variability.

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  • 1Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL, 8903 Birmensdorf, Switzerland. gea.guillermo@inia.es


Global change challenges forest adaptability at the distributional limit of species. We studied ring-porous Quercus canariensis Willd. xylem traits to analyze how they adjust to spatio-temporal variability in climate. Trees were sampled along altitudinal transects, and annual time series of radial growth (ring width (RW)) and several earlywood vessel (EV) traits were built to analyze their relationships with climate. The trees responded to increasing water constraints with decreasing altitude and changes in climate in the short term but the analyses showed that xylem did not acclimate in response to long-term temperature increase during the past 30 years. The plants' adjustment to climate variability was expressed in a different but complementary manner by the different xylem traits. At low elevations, trees exhibited higher correlations with water stress indices and trees acclimated to more xeric conditions at low elevations by reducing radial growth and hydraulic diameter (D(H)) but increasing the density of vessels (DV). Average potential conductivity (K(H)) was similar for trees at different altitudes. However, inter-tree differences in xylem traits were higher than those between altitudes, suggesting a strong influence of individual genetic features or micro-site conditions. Trees exhibited higher RW those years with larger D(H) and particularly the linear density of vessels (DV(l)), but partly, climatic signals expressed in RW differed from those in EVs. Trees produced larger D(H) after cold winters and wet years. Ring width responded positively to wet and cool weather in fall and spring, whereas the response to climate of DV and K(H) was generally opposite to that of RW. These relationships likely expressed the negative impact of high respiration rates in winter on the carbon pools used to produce the EVs in the next spring and the overall positive influence of water availability for trees. Our results showed that trees at different sites were able to adjust their hydraulic architecture to climatic variability and temperature increase during recent decades coordinating several complementary traits. Nonetheless, it should be monitored whether they will succeed to acclimate to future climatic scenarios of increasing water stress.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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