Effects of elevation-dependent climate warming on intra- and inter-specific growth synchrony in mixed mountain forests
del Río, Miren
Forrester, David I.
Nagel, Thomas A.
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Spruce-fir-beech mixed forests cover a large area in European mountain regions, with high ecological and socio-economic importance. As elevation-zone systems they are highly affected by climate change, which is modifying species growth patterns and productivity shifts among species. The extent to which associated tree species can access resources and grow asynchronously may affect their resistance and persistence under climate change. Intra-specific synchrony in annual tree growth is a good indicator of species specific dependence on environmental conditions variability. However, little attention has been paid to explore the role of the inter-specific growth asynchrony in the adaptation of mixed forests to climate change. Here we used a database of 1790 tree-ring series collected from 28 experimental plots in spruce-fir-beech mixed forests across Europe to explore how spatio-temporal patterns of the intra- and inter-specific growth synchrony relate to climate variation during the past century. We further examined whether synchrony in growth response to inter-annual environmental fluctuations depended on site conditions. We found that the inter-specific growth synchrony was always lower than the intra-specific synchrony, for both high (inter-annual fluctuations) and low frequency (mid- to long-term) growth variation, suggesting between species niche complementarity at both temporal levels. Intra- and inter-specific synchronies in inter-annual growth fluctuations significantly changed along elevation, being greater at higher elevations. Moreover, the climate warming likely induced temporal changes in synchrony, but the effect varied along the elevation gradient. The synchrony strongly intensified at lower elevations likely due to climate warming and drying conditions. Our results suggest that intra- and inter-specific growth synchrony can be used as an indicator of temporal niche complementarity among species. We conclude that spruce-fir-beech mixtures should be preferred against mono-specific forests to buffer climate change impacts in mountain regions.