Climate response and drought resilience of Nothofagus obliqua secondary forests across a latitudinal gradient in south-central Chile


Urrutia-Jalabert, Rocío - Barichivich Henríquez, Jonathan Eligio - Rozas, V. - Lara Aguilar, Antonio - Rojas Ponce, Yasna - Bahamóndez V., Carlos - Rojas-Badilla, Moisés - Gipoulou-Zuñiga, T. - Cuq, Emilio

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The climate response and resilience of tree growth to drought events have been widely reported for forests from the Northern Hemisphere. However, studies are much scarcer in the extra-tropical forests of southern South America. Mediterranean and Temperate forests of Chile are suffering from a moderate warming and a sustained precipitation decrease, occurring on top of an unprecedented megadrought since 2010. This study evaluated tree-growth patterns, the climate response and drought resilience of nine secondary Nothofagus obliqua forests across a latitudinal gradient from Mediterranean to Temperate climate in the Andes of Chile (35.7° to 40.3° S). Moreover, to improve the understanding of the spatial variation in productivity patterns, this research assessed trends in the maximum Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (peak in the NDVI) across the gradient for 2001–2018. Tree-growth patterns were highly influenced by stand dynamics, with steep decreasing trends in most of the stands related to a gradual canopy closure. Productivity trends had a flat pattern north of 38oS, but positive trends south of this latitude, which were mostly attributed to stand development. Tree growth was positively related to precipitation in all the sites, with annual and summer rainfall being more important in the north (Mediterranean climate) and south (Temperate climate), respectively. Conversely, maximum temperature had a negative effect on growth in most of the studied forests. This implies that projected warmer and drier conditions may have a detrimental effect on N. obliqua growth during coming decades. The two northern stands, located at the species dry range edge, were among the most resilient to drought and have not been strongly affected by the current megadrought in the area. Overall climate conditions, however, do not define the tolerance of stands to droughts, likely because local environmental and forests conditions play a key role. Although droughts have not strongly impacted the growth of N. obliqua across its distribution so far, future studies should assess the effects of the current long-term megadrought on growth resilience, and physiological studies should address the impacts of droughts and heat waves on forest function beyond what growth can unveil.

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