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Exploring interactive effects of climate change and exotic pathogens on Quercus suber performance: Damage caused by Phytophthora cinnamomi varies across contrasting scenarios of soil moisture

Homet, Pablo, González, Mario, Matías, Luis, Godoy, Oscar, Pérez-Ramos, Ignacio M., García, Luis V., Gómez-Aparicio, Lorena
Agricultural and forest meteorology 2019 v.276-277 pp. 107605
Phytophthora cinnamomi, Quercus suber, additive effect, climate, climate change, drought, forest decline, forests, greenhouse experimentation, hosts, inoculum density, introduced species, pathogens, pests, photosynthesis, physiological response, rain, seedlings, soil density, soil water, soil water retention, Mediterranean region
Climate change and exotic pests and pathogens are causing alarming forest declines worldwide. However, we still lack a comprehensive understanding of how damage caused by exotic pests and pathogens might vary under the different scenarios of water availability imposed by a changing climate, particularly in water-limited forests as those that occupy Mediterranean areas. In this paper we aimed to experimentally analyse the interactive effects of the aggressive exotic pathogen Phytophthora cinnamomi and climate change-related reductions in soil moisture on seedling performance of the Mediterranean host Quercus suber. We conducted a full-factorial greenhouse experiment where the physiology and growth of Q. suber seedlings was measured in soils with different combinations of P. cinnamomi inoculum density (0, 30, 60 and 120 colony forming units per gram of dry soil) and soil moisture (15%, 40%, 50% and 100% soil water holding capacity) simulating different invasion and climate change scenarios. We found additive effects of P. cinnamomi and drought on Q. suber performance aboveground, although these effects were not always negative. In fact, seedlings showed a compensatory physiological response to P. cinnamomi infection by increasing their net photosynthetic rates. Our results also supported important interactive effects of pathogens and soil moisture on belowground performance. Thus, the inoculum density in the soil required to cause significant root damage in experimental seedlings decreased as soil moisture increased. From a climate change perspective, these results suggest that an average drier climate might imply sub-optimal conditions for P. cinnamomi infections allowing for a slower advance of the disease in invaded areas. However, this effect will be modulated by the also predicted more frequent extreme climatic events. A higher frequency of extreme rain events that saturate the soil might be particularly beneficial for P. cinnamomi, boosting its soil density beyond any possible response capacity of susceptible hosts.