Many tree species from Mediterranean regions have started to show increased rates of crown defoliation, reduced growth, and dieback associated with the increase in temperatures and changes in the frequency and intensity of drought events experienced during the last decades. In this regard, Quercus ilex L. subsp. ballota [Desf.] (Holm oak), despite being a drought-tolerant species widely distributed in the Mediterranean basin, it has recently started to show acute signs of decline, extended areas from Spain being affected. However, few studies have assessed the role of climatic variability (i.e., temperature, precipitation, and drought) on the decline and resilience of Holm oak. Here, we measured secondary growth of seventy Holm oaks from a coppice stand located in central Spain. Sampled trees had different stages of decline, so they were classified into four vigour groups considering their crown foliar lost: healthy (0%), low defoliated (<25%), highly defoliated (25–70%), and dying (70–100%). Our results showed that during the study period (1980–2009) the highly defoliated and dying Holm oaks grew significantly less than their healthy and low defoliated neighbours, suggesting permanent growth reduction in the less vigorous individuals. Despite these differences, all four vigour groups showed similar responses to climatic variations, especially during winter and late spring – early summer seasons, and similar resilience after severe drought events, managing to significantly recover to pre-drought growth rates after only two years. Our findings, hence, illustrate that tree vigour influences secondary growth but not responsiveness to climatic variability in Holm oak. Still, as reduced growth rates are frequently associated with the process of tree mortality, we conclude that the less vigorous Holm oaks might not be able to cope with future water stress conditions, leading to increased mortality rates among this emblematic Mediterranean species.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Plant Science