Different growth sensitivity to climate of the conifer Juniperus thurifera on both sides of the Mediterranean Sea

DeSoto, L. and Varino, F. and Andrade, J.P. and Gouveia, C.M. and Campelo, F. and Trigo, R.M. and Nabais, C.
International Journal of Biometeorology

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Mediterranean plants cope with cold wet winters and dry hot summers, with a drought gradient from northwest to southeast. Limiting climatic conditions have become more pronounced in the last decades due to the warming trend and rainfall decrease. Juniperus thurifera L., a long-lived conifer tree endemic to the western Mediterranean region, has a disjunct distribution in Europe and Africa, making it a suitable species to study sensitivity to climate in both sides of the Mediterranean Basin. Tree-ring width chronologies were built for three J. thurifera stands at Spain (Europe) and three in Morocco (Africa) and correlated with monthly temperature and precipitation. The temporal stability of climate-growth relationships was assessed using moving correlations; the drought effect on growth was calculated using the monthly standardized precipitation-evapotranspiration index (SPEI) at different temporal scales. In the wettest stands, increasing spring temperature and summer precipitation enhanced growth, while in the driest stands, growth was enhanced by higher spring precipitation and lower summer temperature. The climate-growth correlations shifted during the twentieth century, especially since the 1970s. Particularly noticeable is the recent negative correlation with previous autumn and winter precipitation in the wettest stands of J. thurifera, probably related with an effect of cloud cover or flooding on carbon storage depletion for next year growth. The driest stands were affected by drought at long time scales, while the wettest stands respond to drought at short time scales. This reveals a different strategy to cope with drought conditions, with populations from drier sites able to cope with short periods of water deficit.