Growth resilience of conifer species decreases with early, long-lasting and intense droughts but cannot be explained by hydraulic traits



Drought events may reduce growth and survival of conifer trees. The effects of the intensity and timing of drought on the growth resilience, including growth reductions during drought and recovery of growth after drought, remains however highly uncertain. Growth resilience of 20 conifer species to 11 dry years was compared in a common garden experiment. We assessed 1) the relationships among growth resistance, recovery and resilience, 2) the impacts of different drought dimensions (intensity, onset and length) on resistance, and 3) the underlying mechanisms in terms of growth potential and hydraulic traits. Droughts led to 22% reduction in stem growth for 85% of species, but most species (85%) were resilient due to high recovery. Growth resistance decreased with an early onset of drought (significant for 55% of species), and longer lasting (35%) and intense droughts (60%). While fast-growing species and slow-growing species were similar in resistance and recovery, fast-growing species were more resilient. Unexpectedly, resilience could not be explained by hydraulic traits, possibly because the species grew on poor sandy soils and were acclimated to drought with large hydraulic safety margins. Synthesis Our study shows that in a mild maritime climate almost all conifer species are resilient to drought, and that putative hydraulic traits may be less important here for growth resilience. It also highlights the importance of addressing multiple dimensions of drought, i.e., timing, duration and severity, to predict species responses to climate change.
Date made available20 May 2022
PublisherWageningen University & Research


  • conifer species
  • growth resilience
  • hydraulic traits
  • drought intensity
  • Agriculture, forestry, and fisheries
  • drought duration
  • drought timing

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