Seedlings from marginal and core populations of European beech ( Fagus sylvatica L.) respond differently to imposed drought and shade uri icon


  • Key message Local adaptation largely segregates between traits affecting light responses and water relations, but population-level differences in stomatal conductance when growth is unconstrained converge among populations under water stress. Warming temperatures and altered precipitation patterns threaten plant populations worldwide. European beech (Fagus sylvatica) is a species that expresses both high phenotypic plasticity and local adaptation among populations. Beech seedlings' susceptibility to prolonged drought may be dictated by their immediate light environment. We tested whether seedlings of four beech provenances, from contrasting edaphoclimatic environments, expressed differences in trait responses to imposed water stress under sun and shade treatments. Populations from the southern range margin were expected to display greater water-stress tolerance and core populations' faster growth rates in the absence of abiotic limitations. Both high light and water stress induced differences in trait responses among provenances, but traits that failed to respond to our experimental treatments likewise did not segregate at the provenance level. Hence, those traits responding to light, e.g., increasing leaf flavonol index and leaf mass area, also tended to differ among provenances. Similarly, there was evidence of local adaptation among provenances in traits, like midday leaf water potential, responding to water stress. Exceptionally, there was a three way interaction water- x -light- x -provenance for stomatal conductance which converged among provenances under water stress. Leaf chlorophyll content also varied both with light and water in a provenance-specific manner. We found core provenances' growth traits to outperform others under favourable conditions, whereas southern and high-elevation populations displayed traits adapted to tolerate high irradiance. Only stomatal conductance produced a complementary interactive response between light- x -water across provenances, whereas other traits responded less to combined water stress and high irradiance than to either treatment alone.

publication date

  • 2021
  • 2020