Increased tree-growth synchronization of beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) in response to climate change in northwestern Europe. Dendrochronologia 33, 69–77
To better understand how the radial growth of beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) high forests has responded to climate change, we selected 12 sites (137 trees) with optimal growing conditions along a W–E altitudinal gradient (67–590 m) in Belgium. We evaluated temporal changes in growth response to climate by using pointer year analysis, moving mean sensitivities (1860–2011), and moving bootstrapped correlation coefficients (1952–2011). The strongest driving climatic variables were identified by using the partial least squares method. The common patterns of growth trends, pointer years, and mean sensitivities among sites provided evidences for the impact of environmental changes operating at a regional scale. The results of growth–climate analysis indicated that these changes were strongly influenced by the climatic conditions of the previous year. The climate sensitivity of beech increased progressively in response to more frequent and intense heat waves and warming-related droughts, especially during recent decades, leading to remarkable inter-site synchronization. The changes were much more pronounced for sites located in lowlands (<300 m). The differences in growth responses along the altitudinal gradient and the consequences of warming for beech growth and physiology are discussed.