Soil fertilization transiently increases radial growth in sessile oaks but does not change their resilience to severe soil water deficit

Soil fertilization transiently increases radial growth in sessile oaks but does not change their resilience to severe soil water deficit

Publication date: 15 January 2019

Source: Forest Ecology and Management, Volume 432

Author(s): Stéphane Ponton, Yoran Bornot, Nathalie Bréda


The future climate is projected to become increasingly problematic for European forest ecosystems, likely leading to the decline of many tree species. Forest management must adapt to cope with the negative effects of these changes. Despite the close interactions between nutrients and water in plant physiology, very few studies have investigated the link between soil fertility and tree response to soil water availability and vapour pressure deficit. The objective of this study was to test whether fertilization would modify forest tree resilience to soil water deficit.

The potential impact of fertilization on trees during soil water deficit was assessed in a fertilization experiment carried out on sessile oaks. Three fertilization treatments (NCa, NPKCaMg and an unfertilized control) were applied to 40-year-old oaks that were cored almost 40 years later. The responses to drought in the fertilized and control trees were compared by analysing the radial growth chronologies following two complementary approaches. Firstly, the relationships between radial growth and inter-annual climate variations were investigated through dendroclimatic modelling including water deficit indices computed with the daily soil water balance model Biljou©. Secondly, resistance, recovery and resilience to drought-induced crises were evaluated from tree-ring width and compared among treatments. In addition, the carbon isotope composition (δ13C) of the tree rings was measured to evaluate potential differential gas-exchange processes between fertilized and control trees.

Fertilization had an immediate, strong positive effect on oak growth which disappeared after nine years. NCa and NPKCaMg fertilizations had similar effects, suggesting that adding P, K and Mg did not increase radial growth. Whatever the treatment, ring width variations appeared to be identically constrained by climate, especially by the summer water deficits of the current and previous years. Tree resistance to soil water deficit was negatively affected by the severity of the drought event but did not significantly differ between control and fertilized trees. Tree resilience was not affected by fertilization and remained stable across crises. The tree-ring δ13C clearly increased during the severe 1976 water deficit but did not vary among treatments. We discuss the possible mechanisms involved in changes in growth and the lack of any significant effect of fertilization on resilience to drought and conclude that, under the relatively dry conditions and moderately poor soil fertility of our study site, fertilization could temporarily stimulate aboveground growth without inducing imbalances that would modify resilience and resistance to severe drought episodes.


via ScienceDirect Publication: Forest Ecology and Management

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