In 2003, Central Europe experienced the warmest summer on record combined with unusually low precipitation. We studied plant water relations and phenology in a 100-year- old mixed deciduous forest on a slope (no ground water table) near Basel using the Swiss Canopy Crane (SCC). The drought lasted from early June to mid September. We studied five deciduous tree species; half of the individuals were exposed to elevated CO2 concentration ([CO2]) (530 ppm) using a free-air, atmospheric CO2-enrichment system. In late July, after the first eight weeks of drought, mean predawn leaf water potential about 30 m above ground was -0.9 MPa across all trees, dropping to a mean of -1.5 MPa in mid-August when the top 1 m of the soil profile had no plant accessible moisture. Mean stomatal conductance and rates of maximum net photosynthesis decreased considerably in mid-August across all species. However, daily peak values of sap flow remained surprisingly constant over the whole period in Quercus petraea (Matt.) Liebl., and decreased to only about half of the early summer maxima in Fagus sylvatica L. and Carpinus betulus L. (stomatal down- regulation of flux). Although we detected no differences in most parameters between CO2-treated and control trees, predawn leaf water potential tended to be less negative in trees exposed to elevated [CO2]. Leaf longevity was greater in 2003 compared with the previous years, but the seasonal increase in stem basal area reached only about 75% of that in previous years. Our data suggest that the investigated tree species, particularly Q. petraea, did not experience severe water stress. However, an increased frequency of such exceptionally dry summers may have a more serious impact than a single event and would give Q. petraea a competitive advantage in the long run.
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