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Discerning environmental factors affecting current tree growth in Central Europe

Cienciala, Emil, Russ, Radek, Šantrůčková, Hana, Altman, Jan, Kopáček, Jiří, Hůnová, Iva, Štěpánek, Petr, Oulehle, Filip, Tumajer, Jan, Ståhl, Göran
The Science of the total environment 2016 v.573 pp. 541-554
acidity, altitude, atmospheric precipitation, basal area, carbon nitrogen ratio, clay fraction, climate, drought, forest ecosystems, forest stands, forests, landscapes, linear models, pH, potassium chloride, soil chemistry, soil texture, surveys, temperature, tree growth, Central European region, Czech Republic
We examined the effect of individual environmental factors on the current spruce tree growth assessed from a repeated country-level statistical landscape (incl. forest) survey in the Czech Republic. An extensive set of variables related to tree size, competition, site characteristics including soil texture, chemistry, N deposition and climate was tested within a random-effect model to explain growth in the conditions of dominantly managed forest ecosystems. The current spruce basal area increment was assessed from two consecutive landscape surveys conducted in 2008/2009 and six years later in 2014/2015. Tree size, age and competition within forest stands were found to be the dominant explanatory variables, whereas the expression of site characteristics, environmental and climatic drives was weaker. The significant site variables affecting growth included soil C/N ratio and soil exchangeable acidity (pH KCl; positive response) reflecting soil chemistry, long-term N-deposition (averaged since 1975) in combination with soil texture (clay content) and Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI), a drought index expressing moisture conditions. Sensitivity of growth to N-deposition was positive, although weak. SPI was positively related to and significant in explaining tree growth when expressed for the growth season. Except SPI, no significant relation of growth was determined to altitude-related variables (temperature, growth season length). We identified the current spruce growth optimum at elevations about 800ma.s.l. or higher in the conditions of the country. This suggests that at lower elevations, limitation by a more pronounced water deficit dominates, whereas direct temperature limitation may concern the less frequent higher elevations. The mixed linear model of spruce tree growth explained 55 and 65% of the variability with fixed and random effects included, respectively, and provided new insights on the current spruce tree growth and factors affecting it within the environmental gradients of the country.