Variation in xylem vulnerability to embolism in European beech from geographically marginal populations

S. Stojnić, M. Suchocka, M. Benito-Garzón, J. M. Torres-Ruiz, H. Cochard, A. Bolte, C. Cocozza, B. Cvjetković, M. De Luis, J. Martinez-Vilalta, A. Ræbild, R. Tognetti, S. Delzon

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© The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. Climate change is expected to increase the frequency and intensity of droughts and heatwaves in Europe, leading to effects on forest growth and major forest dieback events due to hydraulic failure caused by xylem embolism. Inter-specific variability in embolism resistance has been studied in detail, but little is known about intra-specific variability, particularly in marginal populations. We evaluated 15 European beech populations, mostly from geographically marginal sites of the species distribution range, focusing particularly on populations from the dry southern margin. We found small, but significant differences in resistance to embolism between populations, with xylem pressures causing 50% loss of hydraulic conductivity ranging from -2.84 to -3.55 MPa. Significant phenotypic clines of increasing embolism resistance with increasing temperature and aridity were observed: the southernmost beech populations growing in a warmer drier climate and with lower habitat suitability have higher resistance to embolism than those from Northern Europe growing more favourable conditions. Previous studies have shown that there is little or no difference in embolism resistance between core populations, but our findings show that marginal populations have developed ways of protecting their xylem based on either evolution or plasticity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)173-185
JournalTree Physiology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2018


  • European beech
  • climatic niche
  • marginal population
  • phenotypic variation
  • xylem embolism resistance


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