The demographic rates of tree species typically show large spatial variation across their range. Understanding the environmental factors underlying this variation is a key topic in forest ecology, with far-reaching management implications. Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) covers large areas of the Northern Hemisphere, the Iberian Peninsula being its southwestern distribution limit. In recent decades, an increase in severe droughts and a densification of forests as a result of changes in forest uses have occurred in this region. Our aim was to use climate and stand structure data to explain mortality and growth patterns of Scots pine forests across the Iberian Peninsula. We used data from 2392 plots dominated by Scots pine, sampled for the National Forest Inventory of Spain. Plots were sampled from 1986 to 1996 (IFN2) and were resampled from 1997 to 2007 (IFN3), allowing for the calculation of growth and mortality rates. We fitted linear models to assess the response of growth and mortality rates to the spatial variability of climate, climatic anomalies, and forest structure. Over the period of approximately 10 years between the IFN2 and IFN3, the amount of standing dead trees increased 11-fold. Higher mortality rates were related to dryness, and growth was reduced with increasing dryness and temperature, but results also suggested that effects of climatic stressors were not restricted to dry sites only. Forest structure was strongly related to demographic rates, suggesting that stand development and competition are the main factors associated with demography. In the case of mortality, forest structure interacted with climate, suggesting that competition for water resources induces tree mortality in dry sites. A slight negative relationship was found between mortality and growth, indicating that both rates are likely to be affected by the same stress factors. Additionally, regeneration tended to be lower in plots with higher mortality. Taken together, our results suggest a large-scale self-thinning related to the recent densification of Scots pine forests. This process appears to be enhanced by dry conditions and may lead to a mismatch in forest turnover. Forest management may be an essential adaptive tool under the drier conditions predicted by most climate models.
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