Role of geographical provenance in the response of silver fir seedlings to experimental warming and drought

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Abstract

Changes in climate can alter the distribution and population dynamics of tree species by altering their recruitment patterns, especially at range edges. However, geographical patterns of genetic diversity could buffer the negative consequences of changing climate at rear range edges where populations might also harbour individuals with drought-adapted genotypes. Silver fir (Abies alba Mill.) reaches its south-western distribution limit in the Spanish Pyrenees, where recent climatic dieback events have disproportionately affected westernmost populations. We hypothesized that silver fir populations from the eastern Pyrenees are less vulnerable to the expected changing climate due to the inclusion of drought-resistant genotypes. We performed an experiment under strictly controlled conditions simulating projected warming and drought compared with current conditions and analysed physiology, growth and survival of silver fir seedlings collected from eastern and western Pyrenean populations. Genetic analyses separated eastern and western provenances in two different lineages. Climate treatments affected seedling morphology and survival of both lineages in an overall similar way: elevated drought diminished survival and induced a higher biomass allocation to roots. Increased temperature and drought provoked more negative stem water potentials and increased δ13C ratios in leaves. Warming reduced nitrogen concentration and increased soluble sugar content in leaves, whereas drought increased nitrogen concentration. Lineage affected these physiological parameters, with western seedlings being more sensitive to warming and drought increase in terms of δ13C, nitrogen and content of soluble sugars. Our results demonstrate that, in A. alba, differences in the physiological response of this species to drought are also associated with differences in biogeographical history.

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