How adaptable is the hydraulic system of European beech in the face of climate change-related precipitation reduction?

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Climate warming will increase the drought exposure of many forests world-wide. It is not well understood how trees adapt their hydraulic architecture to a long-term decrease in water availability. We examined 23 traits characterizing the hydraulic architecture and growth rate of branches and the dependent foliage of mature European beech (Fagus sylvatica) trees along a precipitation gradient (855-594 mm yr(-1) ) on uniform soil. A main goal was to identify traits that are associated with xylem efficiency, safety and growth. Our data demonstrate for the first time a linear increase in embolism resistance with climatic aridity (by 10%) across populations within a species. Simultaneously, vessel diameter declined by 7% and pit membrane thickness (Tm ) increased by 15%. Although specific conductivity did not change, leaf-specific conductivity declined by 40% with decreasing precipitation. Of eight plant traits commonly associated with embolism resistance, only vessel density in combination with pathway redundancy and Tm were related. We did not confirm the widely assumed trade-off between xylem safety and efficiency but obtained evidence in support of a positive relationship between hydraulic efficiency and growth. We conclude that the branch hydraulic system of beech has a distinct adaptive potential to respond to a precipitation reduction as a result of the environmental control of embolism resistance.


  • Bernhard Schuldt
  • Florian Knutzen
  • Sylvain Delzon
  • Steven Jansen
  • Hilmar Müller-Haubold
  • Régis Burlett
  • Yann Clough
  • Christoph Leuschner
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Botany
  • Climate Research
Original languageEnglish
JournalNew Phytologist
Early online date2015 Dec 31
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Publication categoryResearch