Leaf morphological traits and leaf nutrient concentrations of European beech across a water availability gradient in Switzerland

Salehi Maryam 1, Walthert Lorenz 1, Zimmermann Stephan 1, Waldner Peter 1, Schmitt Maria 1, Schleppi Patrick 1, Liechti K├Ąthi 1, Ahmadi Mohsen 2, Amiri Ghavamuddin Zahedi 3, Brunner Ivano 1, Thimonier Anne 1

1 Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research, Birmensdorf, Switzerland
2 Department of Natural Resources, Isfahan University of Technology, Isfahan, Iran
3 Department of Forestry and Forest Economics, Faculty of Natural Resources, University of Tehran, Karaj, Alborz, Iran

Front. For. Glob. Change 3 (2020): 19

DOI: 10.3389/ffgc.2020.00019


Climate change and the expected increase in frequency of dry summers are likely to affect the growth of important tree species. We investigated relationships between morphological and chemical leaf traits of European beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) and environmental factors along a water availability gradient consisting of 12 sites located throughout Switzerland. We found that leaf dry mass and leaf area tended to decrease with increasing long-term mean annual precipitation (MAP) and actual to potential transpiration (AT/PT), two correlated variables that form the water availability gradient. These results contrast with those of several other studies, and might be explained by favorable temperature and humidity conditions during leaf formation in spring at the dry sites. Although the relationship was not linear over the whole gradient, the drier sites were characterized by beech with a lower specific leaf area, along with higher foliar potassium (K) and lower foliar nitrogen (N) concentrations. These patterns likely reflect strategies developed as an adaptation to reduced water availability, but they also result from variation in the availability of nutrients in soil across our sites. In the case of N, there are indications that atmospheric deposition plays a role in foliar concentrations.

Keywords: beech forest, drought stress, gradient analysis, leaf functional trait, tree nutrition