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Does belowground interaction with Fagus sylvatica increase drought susceptibility of photosynthesis and stem growth in Picea abies?

Goisser, M., Geppert, U., Rötzer, T., Paya, A., Huber, A., Kerner, R., Bauerle, T., Pretzsch, H., Pritsch, K., Häberle, K.H., Matyssek, R., Grams, T.E.E.
Forest ecology and management 2016 v.375 pp. 268-278
Fagus sylvatica subsp. sylvatica, Picea abies, carbon dioxide, climate change, drought, ectomycorrhizae, fine roots, forests, gas exchange, leaves, mixed stands, photosynthesis, plant available water, soil horizons, spring, stem elongation, stomatal conductance, summer, trees, water uptake, xylem
Mixed stands of European beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) and Norway spruce (Picea abies (L.) Karst.) frequently over-yield, when compared to respective monospecific stands. Over-yielding is attributed to enhanced resource uptake efficiency through niche complementarity alleviating species competition, for example through enhanced root stratification in mixture. Under severe and frequent summer drought, however, water limitation may become crucial in modifying the prevailing competitive interaction in mixed beech-spruce forests. We hypothesize, therefore, that under drought (H I) inter-specific interaction with beech reduces water accessibility for spruce more than intra-specific conditions, thus (H II) exacerbating drought susceptibility of spruce in terms of reduced photosynthesis and stem growth. Reactions at the organ (leaf, fine root), tree and stand scale were analysed in a mature forest with beech-spruce group mixture. Under inter-specific conditions spruce’s fine-root production and depth of water uptake (assessed via δ18O of xylem water) shifted to shallow, drought-prone soil horizons, in agreement with H I. Overall, lowered fine root production and ramification along with a reduction in long-distance explorative ectomycorrhizal types resulted in decreased soil exploitation in spruce when growing together with beech. Spruce’s drought sensitivity was exemplified by a distinct decrease in stomatal conductance, net CO2 uptake rate and stem growth during periods of water limitation. Notwithstanding, species interaction effects were absent in leaf gas exchange and stem diameter growth, during a six-week summer drought period in 2013 as well as in the extremely dry year of 2003, hence rejecting H II. Based on results from soil moisture measurements and water uptake depth, we interpret the conflicting findings for H I and H II to result from: (i) seasonal shifts between positive (during spring drought) and negative (during summer drought) effects of beech neighbourhood on soil water availability for spruce, possibly overriding each other in their effect on annual stem diameter growth and (ii) the group-wise mixture pattern, where spruce is exposed to competition with beech only along group edges, i.e. laterally only, so that the putatively adverse beech effect on water accessibility stays limited. Our results suggest, compared to single tree mixture, group-wise mixture of beech and spruce to be a favourable silvicultural option in the face of climate change.