Growth and mortality of Norway spruce and European beech in monospecific and mixed-species stands under natural episodic and experimentally extended drought. Results of the KROOF throughfall exclusion experiment.
Key message: Under severe drought, growth of Norway spruce suffered much more than European beech. Norway spruce benefited from growing in the environment of beech, and both species acclimated slightly to 5 years of experimentally extended drought. Abstract: Recent studies show that the detrimental effects of drought on stand growth are mitigated when the stand contains mixed tree species. We analysed the growth responses of Norway spruce and European beech to episodic and experimentally extended drought in intra- and inter-specific mature stands. We used annual diameter growth records dating back to 1998 to determine the impact of the natural episodic drought in 2003 and 2015. To analyse extended drought, spruce and beech trees were exposed to extreme drought under automatic throughfall exclusion roofs from 2014 to 2018. The growth of spruce in an inter-specific environment with beech was 20–50% less affected by natural episodic drought compared with an intra-specific constellation. When beech grew in an inter-specific environment, it was by 23% more affected by drought compared to intra-specific conditions, but seemed to recover faster. The induced drought from 2014 to 2018 resulted in a strong growth reduction in the first year particularly for spruce, followed by a slight acclimation to the dry conditions. Beech acclimated and recovered faster than spruce across all growing conditions, while spruce only acclimatized faster in the environment of beech. Both species showed a higher mortality under induced drought compared with the controls; for spruce, the mortality rate was fivefold higher compared to the long-term mortality. The long-term moderate-growth stabilization and the growth increase after the 5-year exposure to drought suggest a gradual acclimation to drought by beech. The resistance and acclimation to drought of spruce when growing in mixture should be considered when designing resource efficient and productive mixed conifer-broadleaved stands for future climates.