News

What are the mechanisms enabling trees to survive droughts? OptFor-EU tries to give an answer in a new scientific paper.

We are glad to announce the publication of a new scientific article, Contrasting patterns of water use efficiency and annual radial growth among European beech forests along the Italian peninsula, mainly authored by the OptFor-EU partner CNR on Scientific Reports. The paper investigates the mechanisms enabling trees to withstand and survive droughts by studying four healthy stands in Italy with varying climates and soil water availability.

Full abstract

Tree mortality and forest dieback episodes are increasing due to drought and heat stress. Nevertheless, a comprehensive understanding of mechanisms enabling trees to withstand and survive droughts remains lacking. Our study investigated basal area increment (BAI), and δ13C-derived intrinsic water-use-efficiency (iWUE), to elucidate beech resilience across four healthy stands in Italy with varying climates and soil water availability. Additionally, fist-order autocorrelation (AR1) analysis was performed to detect early warning signals for potential tree dieback risks during extreme drought events. Results reveal a negative link between BAI and vapour pressure deficit (VPD), especially in southern latitudes. After the 2003 drought, BAI decreased at the northern site, with an increase in δ13C and iWUE, indicating conservative water-use. Conversely, the southern sites showed increased BAI and iWUE, likely influenced by rising CO2 and improved water availability. In contrast, the central site sustained higher transpiration rates due to higher soil water holding capacity (SWHC). Despite varied responses, most sites exhibited reduced resilience to future extreme events, indicated by increased AR1. Temperature significantly affected beech iWUE and BAI in northern Italy, while VPD strongly influenced the southern latitudes. The observed increase in BAI and iWUE in southern regions might be attributed to an acclimation response.

Read the full article