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Forest resilience to global warming is strongly modulated by local-scale topographic, microclimatic and biotic conditions

Citation

Carnicer, Jofre (2021), Forest resilience to global warming is strongly modulated by local-scale topographic, microclimatic and biotic conditions, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.vq83bk3t5

Abstract

Resilience of endangered rear edge populations of cold-adapted forests in the Mediterranean basin is increasingly altered by extreme heatwave and drought pressures. It remains unknown, however, whether microclimatic variation in these isolated forests could ultimately result in large intra-population variability in the demographic responses, allowing the coexistence of contrasting declining and resilient trends across small topographic gradients. Multiple key drivers promoting spatial variability in the resilience of rear edge forests remain largely unassessed, including amplified and buffered thermal exposure induced by heat waves along topographic gradients, and increased herbivory pressure on tree saplings in defaunated areas lacking efficient apex predators. Here we analysed whether indicators of forest resilience to global warming are strongly modulated by local-scale topographic, microclimatic and biotic conditions.

We studied a protected rear edge forest of sessile oak (Q. petraea), applying a suite of 20 indicators of resilience of tree secondary growth, including multidecadal and short-term indices. We also analysed sapling recruitment success, recruit/adult ratios and sapling thermal exposure across topographic gradients. We found large within population variation in secondary growth resilience, in recruitment success and in thermal exposure of tree saplings to heatwaves, and this variability was spatially structured along small-scale topographical gradients. Multidecadal resilience indices and curves provide useful descriptors of forest vulnerability to climate warming, complementing assessments based in the analysis of short-term resilience indicators. Species-specific associations of trees with microclimatic variability are reported.

Biotic factors are key in determining long-term resilience in climatically-stressed rear edge forests, with strong limitation of sapling recruitment by increased roe deer and wild boar herbivory. Our results also support non-stationary effects of climate determining forest growth responses and resilience, showing increased negative effects of warming and drought over the last decades in declining stands.

Our findings do not support scenarios predicting spatially homogeneous distributional shifts and limited resilience in rear-edge populations, and are more supportive of scenarios including spatially heterogeneous responses, characterised with contrasting intra-population trends of forest resilience. We conclude that forest resilience responses to climate warming are strongly modulated by local-scale microclimatic, topographic and biotic factors. Accurate predictions of forest responses to changes in climate would therefore largely benefit from the integration of local-scale abiotic and biotic factors.

Methods

We studied a protected rear edge forest of sessile oak (Q. petraea), applying a suite of 20 indicators of resilience of tree secondary growth, including multidecadal and short-term indices. We also analysed sapling recruitment success, recruit/adult ratios and sapling thermal exposure across topographic gradients. We found large within population variation in secondary growth resilience, in recruitment success and in thermal exposure of tree saplings to heatwaves, and this variability was spatially structured along small-scale topographical gradients. Multidecadal resilience indices and curves provide useful descriptors of forest vulnerability to climate warming, complementing assessments based in the analysis of short-term resilience indicators. Species-specific associations of trees with microclimatic variability are reported.

Funding

Spanish Government, Award: PID2020-117636GB-C21

Spanish Government, Award: GGL-2016- 78093-R

Spanish Government, Award: PID2020-117636GB-C21