Biotic factors and increasing aridity shape the altitudinal shifts of marginal Pyrenean silver fir populations in Europe uri icon

abstract

  • Rear-edge tree populations are currently at the forefront of habitat conservation. Understanding the dynamics of such marginal and peripheral populations is necessary to improve their preservation in the face of global change. Focusing on the south-western rear edge populations of silver fir (Abies alba) in Europe (Spanish Pyrenees) and using 763 resampled plots from the Spanish National Forest Inventory (1989-2000 and 2001-2010), we analyzed temporal changes in demographic parameters such as regeneration, growth and mortality as well as changes in diameter distribution and vitality of silver fir to identify shifts in the distribution. For this purpose, montane (900-1600 m a.s.l.) and subalpine (1600-2000 m a.s.l.) silver fir populations were considered separately. We then assessed the relative effects of various biotic and abiotic factors on the observed changes and specifically on each of the studied demographic parameters. In montane forests, early recruitment and the proportion of trees exhibiting high vitality decreased, while the amount of dead trees increased. In subalpine forests, silver fir has become more abundant and displays the highest growth and recruitment rates as well as the lowest mortality rate. The increase in radial growth and saplings were positively related to elevation but negatively associated with warmer and drier conditions, coinciding with the intensified aridification observed in the study area over recent decades. Our findings point to the contraction of montane silver fir forests but also to an upward expansion of subalpine forests. The results also indicate that the dynamics of marginal tree populations are driven not only by climate warming, but particularly, by biotic factors, suggesting a positive impact of interspecific interactions with tree species displaying differentiated ecophysiological traits. Given the singularity of marginal Pyrenean silver fir populations, their importance as regards the conservation of forest biodiversity at European scale, and the demographic changes revealed in this study, an integral conservation strategy to ensure their long-term preservation is necessary.

publication date

  • 2019
  • 2019