Forest tree growth response to hydroclimate variability in the southern Appalachians
Climate change will affect tree species growth and distribution; however, under the same climatic conditions species may differ in their response according to site conditions. We evaluated the climate-driven patterns of growth for six dominant deciduous tree species in the southern Appalachians. We categorized species into two functional groups based on their stomatal regulation and xylem architecture: isohydric, diffuse-porous and anisohydric, ringporous. We hypothesized that within the same climatic regime: (1) species-specific differences in growth will be conditional on topographically-mediated soil moisture availability; (2) in extreme drought years, functional groups will have markedly different growth responses; and (3) multiple hydroclimate variables will have direct and indirect effects on growth for each functional group. We used standardized tree-ring chronologies to examine growth of diffuse-porous (Acer, Liriodendron, and Betula) and ring-porous (Quercus) species versus on-site climatic data from 1935 to 2003. Quercus species growing on upslope sites had higher basal area increment (BAI) than Quercus species growing on mesic, cove sites; whereas, Acer and Liriodendron had lower BAI on upslope compared to cove sites. Diffuse-porous species were more sensitive to climate than ring-porous, especially during extreme drought years. Across functional groups, radial growth was more sensitive to precipitation distribution, such as small storms and dry spell length (DSL), rather than the total amount of precipitation. Based on structural equation modeling, diffuse-porous species on upslope sites were the most sensitive to multiple hydroclimate variables (r2 = 0.46), while ring-porous species on upslope sites were the least sensitive (r2 = 0.32). Spring precipitation, vapor pressure deficit and summer storms had direct effects on summer AET/P, and summer AET/P, growing season small storms and DSL partially explained growth. Decreasing numbers of small storms and extending the days between rainfall events will result in significant growth reduction, even in regions with relatively high total annual rainfall.