Enhanced growth of Juniperus thurifera under a warmer climate is explained by a positive carbon gain under cold and drought

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Abstract

Juniperus thurifera L. is an endemic conifer of the western Mediterranean Basin where it is subjected to a severe climatic stress characterized by low winter temperatures and summer drought. Given the trend of increased warming-induced drought stress in this area and the climatic sensitivity of this species, we expect a negative impact of climate change on growth and ecophysiological performance of J. thurifera in the harsh environments where it dominates. To evaluate this, we measured long- and short-term radial growth using dendrochronology, photosynthesis and water-use efficiency in males, females and juveniles in three sites in Central Spain. Climate was monitored and completed with historical records. Mean annual temperature has increased +0.2 °C per decade in the study area, and the main warming trends corresponded to spring (+0.2 °C per decade) and summer (+0.3 °C per decade). Radial growth and maximum photosynthesis peaked in spring and autumn. Positive photosynthetic rates were maintained all year long, albeit at reduced rates in winter and summer. Radial growth was enhanced by wet conditions in the previous autumn and by warm springs and high precipitation in summer of the year of tree-ring formation. Cloud cover during the summer increased growth, while cloudy winters led to impaired carbon gain and reduced growth in the long term. We argue that maintenance of carbon gain under harsh conditions (low winter temperatures and dry summer months) and plastic xylogenesis underlie J. thurifera's ability to profit from changing climatic conditions such as earlier spring onset and erratic summer rainfall. Our results highlight that not only the magnitude but also the sign of the impact of climate change on growth and persistence of Mediterranean trees is species specific.

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