Phenological shifts induced by climate change amplify drought for broad-leaved trees at low elevations in Switzerland

Michael Meier, Yann Vitasse, Harald Bugmann, Christof Bigler
2021 Agricultural and Forest Meteorology  
A B S T R A C T Climate change alters the bioclimatic conditions during the growing period of trees directly, but also indirectly by causing shifts in spring and autumn leaf phenology that lead to changes in the timing and length of the growing period. Several studies researched the ecological consequences of direct climate change effects on bioclimatic conditions during the growing period of trees. However, the complementary and indirect effects through phenological shifts on these conditions
more » ... ave been insufficiently investigated. We analysed 49088 leaf unfolding and leaf colouring dates of six major European tree species from Switzerland, observed between 200 and 1900 m a.s.l. during 1961-2018. We estimated phenological trends, the resulting changes in bioclimatic conditions during the growing period, and the relative contributions of phenological shifts towards these changes. Our results show that climate change advanced leaf unfolding by up to -3.0 days/decade since 1985. Leaf colouring was mainly delayed at low elevations and was advanced or delayed at high elevations with species-specific rates between -3.1 and +4.0 days/decade. While the length of the growing period and growing degree-days increased for most species after 1985, precipitation during the growing period predominantly decreased by up to -43.6 mm/decade. Furthermore, drought intensity during the growing period (based on the number of days with negative water balance) increased significantly for most species, reaching +6.7 days/decade at low elevations. Phenological shifts amplified the trends towards drier conditions by up to +81% at low elevations for beech, rowan, and sycamore, but weakened them by up to -84% at high elevations for beech, rowan, sycamore, and larch. These findings indicate widely increased drought stress, especially at lower elevations. Further, we conclude that future forest net ecosystem productivity in Central Europe will depend strongly on elevation and species composition, despite a general lengthening of the growing period for trees.
doi:10.1016/j.agrformet.2021.108485 fatcat:drugg6lv7fc6jds5ipfcawboq4