Vessel plasticity of European beech in response to thinning and aspect

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The importance of European beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) for the Central European forest and wood sector demands profound research to examine the adaptive capacity of beech forests to changing environmental conditions. Quantitative wood anatomy is a valuable tool for studying the relation between structural and functional traits of trees, but due to the laborious methodology not many studies have thus far been performed on the conductive tissue of broadleaf tree species with diffuse-porous wood structure. The aim of our research was to test the effects of aspect and thinning on vessel anatomical features of European beech (vessel density, vessel size, total vessel area, vessel groups and hydraulic conductivity). Our analysis of increment cores of trees sampled from a long-term experimental research area on the Swabian Alb showed that (i) the variations in different vessel traits were mainly controlled by tree-ring width. Additionally, we could observe that (ii) thinning contributed to a safer water transport by decreasing vessel size and that (iii) the aspect modified these responses. Our results provide new insights into the plastic response of European beech wood anatomy to warmer climatic conditions and demonstrated that thinning of the forest stands modified the water-conducting system to become more resistant against hydraulic failure.

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