Species interactions implicate a complex balance of facilitation and competition, which may shift during community development, thus structuring the subalpine ecotone of Mediterranean mountain ranges through time and space. This study highlights that encroachment of grasslands and simultaneous downward/upward movement of forest tree species involve species interferences and environmental feedbacks, with differential effects on mountain pine and European beech, and the grassland communities of the Majella Massif.
Context The transitional ecotone from the European beech closed forest to the mountain pine krummholz vegetation in the Majella Massif (Apennines, Italy) is a sensitive area to climate and land-use changes. Vegetation shifts in these ecotonal zones may cause a negative impact on the spatial distribution and survival of rare or endemic herbaceous species, thus influencing the appearance, structure, and productivity of the subalpine ecotone of the Majella National Park.
Aims We focused on determining the structures and dynamics of this Mediterranean tree line, and the climate–growth relationships of European beech and mountain pine. We investigated the upward and downward movement of pine into areas potentially suitable for beech expansion, and the concurrent beech encroachment upward.
Methods Growth dynamics and canopy cover of European beech closed forest and mountain pine krummholz vegetation were analyzed in relation to disturbances at four different sites.
Results Spring and summer temperatures and summer precipitation affected stem radial growth of both species. In details, spring and summer temperatures negatively affected tree ring width (TRW) of European beech, except for the highest site, whereas spring temperatures affected positively and summer temperatures negatively TRW of mountain pine. Mountain pine expanded upward, encroaching formerly grazed pastures and harvested areas, especially where the soil is shallow and rocky; downward expansion is also occurring, following progressive abandonment of forest management practices. At the same time, European beech recruitment is moving upward, interspersed within mountain pine krummholz, taking advantage from canopy shelter and higher temperature.
Conclusion Climate and land-cover simultaneous changes induce species interactions and a complex balance of facilitation and competition, which may shift during community development and structure the subalpine European beech-mountain pine ecotone of the Majella Massif through time and space.
Disturbance indicators, European beech, Land cover, Mountain pine, Vegetation shift, Tree line
Calderaro, C., Cocozza, C., Palombo, C. et al. Climate–growth relationships at the transition between Fagus sylvatica and Pinus mugo forest communities in a Mediterranean mountain. Annals of Forest Science 77, 63 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13595-020-00964-y
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The datasets generated during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.