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Root growth of different oak provenances in two soils under drought stress and air warming conditions

Kuster, Thomas M., Arend, Matthias, Günthardt-Goerg, Madeleine S., Schulin, Rainer
Plant and soil 2013 v.369 no.1-2 pp. 61-71
Quercus robur, air, calcareous soils, climate, climate change, drought, ecosystems, provenance, root growth, roots, trees, water stress
BACKGROUND AND AIMS: Oaks are considered to be drought- and thermo-tolerant tree species. Nevertheless, species and provenances may differ in their ecological requirements. We hypothesised that (i) provenances from xeric sites are better adapted to drought than those from more humid sites, (ii) oaks direct root growth towards resource-rich layers, and (iii) air-warming promotes root growth. METHODS: To test different provenances of Quercus robur, Q. petraea and Q. pubescens, we conducted a model ecosystem experiment with young trees, grown on acidic and calcareous soil, subjected to drought, air warming, the combination of warming and drought, and a control. RESULTS: The results were only in partial agreement with the first hypothesis. As expected the provenances originating from drier sites produced more biomass than those from more humid sites under drought conditions. Surprisingly, however, they reacted more sensitive to water limiting conditions, as they produced also substantially more biomass under well-watered conditions. The drought treatment reduced root mass substantially in the upper soil. In agreement with the second hypothesis this led to a shift in the centre of root mass to lower depth, where water was still more available than closer to the soil surface. In contrast to the third hypothesis, the air-warming treatment, which was very mild however compared to climate change scenarios, had no significant effects on root growth. CONCLUSIONS: Given that the provenances from drier sites showed more biomass loss at water limiting conditions than provenances from more humid sites, it remains questionable whether provenances from drier sites are better suited for a future climate.