Journal Article

Associations between growth, wood anatomy, carbon isotope discrimination and mortality in a <i>Quercus robur</i> forest

Tom Levanič, Matjaž Čater and Nate G. McDowell

Edited by Marc Abrams

in Tree Physiology

Volume 31, issue 3, pages 298-308
Published in print March 2011 | ISSN: 0829-318X
Published online March 2011 | e-ISSN: 1758-4469 | DOI:
Associations between growth, wood anatomy, carbon isotope discrimination and mortality in a Quercus robur forest

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  • Plant Sciences and Forestry


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Observations of forest mortality are increasing globally, but relatively little is known regarding the underlying mechanisms driving these events. Tree rings carry physiological signatures that may be used as a tool for retrospective analyses. We capitalized on a local soil water drainage event in 1982 that resulted in increased mortality within a stand of oak trees (Quercus robur), to examine the underlying physiological patterns associated with survival and death in response to soil water limitations. Pre-dawn water potentials showed more negative values for trees in the process of dying compared with those that survived. We used tree rings formed over the 123 years prior to mortality to estimate productivity from basal area increment (BAI, mm2), multiple xylem hydraulic parameters via anatomical measurements and crown-level gas exchange via carbon isotope discrimination (Δ, ‰). Oaks that died had significantly higher BAI values than trees that survived until the drainage event, after which the BAI of trees that died declined dramatically. Hydraulic diameter and conductivity of vessels in trees that died were higher than in surviving trees until the last 5 years prior to mortality, at which time both groups had similar values. Trees that died had consistently lower Δ values than trees that survived. Therefore, tree mortality in this stand was associated with physiological differences prior to the onset of soil water reduction. We propose that trees that died may have been hydraulically underbuilt for dry conditions, which predisposes them to severe hydraulic constraints and subsequent mortality. Measurements of above-ground/below-ground dry mass partitioning will be critical to future tests of this hypothesis. Based on these results, it is probable that pedunculate oak trees will experience greater future mortality if climate changes cause more severe droughts than the trees have experienced previously.

Keywords: climate change; dendroecology; die-off; human impact; water stress

Journal Article.  7094 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Plant Sciences and Forestry

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