Climate sensitivity and drought seasonality determine post-drought growth recovery of Quercus petraea and Quercus robur in Europe
Recent studies have identified strong relationships between delayed recovery of tree growth after drought and tree mortality caused by subsequent droughts. These observations raise concerns about forest ecosystem services and post-drought growth recovery given the projected increase in drought frequency and extremes. For quantifying the impact of extreme droughts on tree radial growth, we used a network of tree-ring width data of 1689 trees from 100 sites representing most of the distribution of two drought tolerant, deciduous oak species (Quercus petraea and Quercus robur). We first examined which climatic factors and seasons control growth of the two species and if there is any latitudinal, longitudinal or elevational trend. We then quantified the relative departure from pre-drought growth during droughts, and how fast trees were able to recover the pre-drought growth level. Our results showed that growth was more related to precipitation and climatic water balance (precipitation minus potential evapotranspiration) than to temperature. However, we did not detect any clear latitudinal, longitudinal or elevational trends except a decreasing influence of summer water balance on growth of Q. petraea with latitude. Neither species was able to maintain the pre-drought growth level during droughts. However, both species showed rapid recovery or even growth compensation after summer droughts but displayed slow recovery in response to spring droughts where none of the two species was able to fully recover the pre-drought growth-level over the three post-drought years. Collectively, our results indicate that oaks which are considered resilient to extreme droughts have also shown vulnerability when droughts occurred in spring especially at sites where long-term growth is not significantly correlated with climatic factors. This improved understanding of the role of drought seasonality and climate sensitivity of sites is key to better predict trajectories of post-drought growth recovery in response to the drier climate projected for Europe.