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Temperature and masting control Norway spruce growth, but with high individual tree variability

Hacket-Pain, Andrew, Ascoli, Davide, Berretti, Roberta, Mencuccini, Maurizio, Motta, Renzo, Nola, Paola, Piussi, Pietro, Ruffinatto, Flavio, Vacchiano, Giorgio
Forest ecology and management 2019 v.438 pp. 142-150
Picea abies, climate, climate change, data collection, growth rings, reproduction, resource allocation, summer, temperature, tree growth, trees
Tree growth and reproduction are subject to trade-offs in resource allocation. At the same time, they are both influenced by climate. In this study, we combined long records of reproductive effort at the individual- (29 years), population- (41 years) and regional (up to 53 years) scale, and tree ring chronologies, to investigate the effects of climate and reproductive allocation on radial growth in an Alpine Norway spruce forest.Seed and cone production was highly variable between years (mean individual CV = 1.39, population CV = 1.19), but showed high reproductive synchrony between individuals (mean inter-tree correlation = 0.72). No long-term trend in reproductive effort was detected over four decades of observations. At the stand scale, cone production was dominated by a small number of individuals (“super-producers”), who remained dominant over three decades.Individual tree growth responded positively to summer temperature, but the response to cone production varied between individual trees. Consequently, we found some evidence that mast years were associated with a divergence in growth between high and low cone producing individuals, and a decline in within-population growth synchrony.At the population level we found limited evidence of a relationship between growth and reproduction. Radial growth was lower than average in some mast years, but not in others. This was partly explained by summer temperature during the year of growth, with growth reductions restricted to mast years that coincided with colder than average summers. Regional mast records and tree ring chronologies provided some support to indicate that our results were consistent in other spruce stands, although the effect of mast years on growth appeared to vary between sites.Tree ring variation at the individual and population level, and between-tree growth synchrony are influenced by masting, and consequently dendrochronologists should consider both the occurrence of masting and the individual differences in reproductive effort when interpreting tree ring datasets. Our results also indicate that tree ring chronologies contain information to facilitate reconstruction of mast events, which will help address outstanding questions regarding the future response of masting to climate change.