Branch xylem vascular adjustments in European beech in response to decreasing water availability across a precipitation gradient

2022 | journal article. A publication with affiliation to the University of Göttingen.

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​Branch xylem vascular adjustments in European beech in response to decreasing water availability across a precipitation gradient​
Weithmann, G.; Paligi, S. S.; Schuldt, B.   & Leuschner, C. ​ (2022) 
Tree Physiology, art. tpac080​.​ DOI: 

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Weithmann, Greta; Paligi, Sharath Shyamappa; Schuldt, Bernhard ; Leuschner, Christoph 
Abstract Crucial for the climate adaptation of trees is a xylem anatomical structure capable of adjusting to changing water regimes. Although species comparisons across climate zones have demonstrated anatomical change in response to altered water availability and tree height, less is known about the adaptability of tree vascular systems to increasing water deficits at the intraspecific level. Information on the between-population and within-population variability of xylem traits helps assessing a species’ ability to cope with climate change. We investigated the variability of wood anatomical and related hydraulic traits in terminal branches of European beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) trees across a precipitation gradient (520–890 mm year−1) and examined the influence of climatic water balance (CWB), soil water capacity (AWC), neighborhood competition (CI), tree height and branch age on these traits. Furthermore, the relationship between xylem anatomical traits and embolism resistance (P50) was tested. Within-population trait variation was larger than between-population variation. Vessel diameter, lumen-to-sapwood area ratio and potential conductivity of terminal branches decreased with decreasing CWB, but these traits were not affected by AWC, whereas vessel density increased with an AWC decrease. In contrast, none of the studied anatomical traits were influenced by variation in tree height (21–34 m) or CI. Branch age was highly variable (2–22 years) despite equal diameter and position in the flow path, suggesting different growth trajectories in the past. Vessel diameter decreased, and vessel density increased, with increasing branch age, reflecting negative annual radial growth trends. Although vessel diameter was not related to P50, vessel grouping index and lumen-to-sapwood area ratio showed a weak, though highly significant, positive relationship to P50. We conclude that the xylem anatomy of terminal tree-top branches in European beech is modified in response to increasing climatic aridity and/or decreasing soil water availability, independent of a tree height effect.
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Tree Physiology 
Albrecht-von-Haller-Institut für Pflanzenwissenschaften ; Abteilung Pflanzenökologie & Ökosystemforschung ; Zentrum für Biodiversität und Nachhaltige Landnutzung 



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