Abstract

Pseudotsuga menziesii (Douglas-fir) is regarded as a promising species to maintain the productivity of Central European lowland forests given the projected increase of long dry spells. Will the species be able to regenerate from seed and spread outside plantations in a drier temperate Europe? We measured the relative growth rate, biomass allocation, root architecture, and phenotypic plasticity of Pseudotsuga menziesii seedlings sown in a common garden and grown under current precipitation and prolonged drought, respectively. The species’ competitive ability with respect to Pinus sylvestris L., the most drought-tolerant native conifer in Central Europe, was assessed during three growing seasons. Pinus sylvestris seedlings had higher relative growth rates than did Pseudotsuga menziesii seedlings, first in terms of aboveground biomass and later in terms of shoot height. This resulted in heavier and taller seedlings after three growing seasons under both moist and dry conditions. Shorter vertical roots corresponded with lower survival of Pseudotsuga menziesii seedlings under dry conditions. Fast root proliferation allows Pinus sylvestris seedlings to reach deeper water pools that are less rapidly depleted during transient drought. By contrast, the shallow root system might put Pseudotsuga menziesii seedlings at the risk of desiccation during prolonged dry spells.