Oak Competition Dominates Interspecific Interactions in Growth and Water-Use Efficiency in a Mixed Pine–Oak Mediterranean Forest
In the Mediterranean, mixed forests of Aleppo pine and holm oak are widespread. Generally considered a transition stage in the succession towards climax oak communities, niche segregation may also contribute to the prevalence of these communities. So far, there is increasing evidence of hydrological niche segregation, with the two species showing complementary water use and seasonal growth patterns. However, it remains unknown whether interspecific interactions affect the response to climate and the mid-term (decadal) growth and water-use efficiency of pines and oaks in mixed stands. Here, we combined tree-ring chronologies, built on different competition classes within a mixed stand, with a spatially explicit assessment of individual growth and wood carbon isotope discrimination (∆13C), as a proxy of intrinsic water-use efficiency, and compared these results with previously reported water uptake patterns. We found that competition with pines modulated the climate response of oaks, whereas pine climate response was insensitive to competition. On the other hand, pine density affected only pine growth, whereas oak competition affected both species. We conclude that the presence of pines had negligible or even positive effects on the oaks, but competition with neighbor oaks limited their ability to recover after drought. Conversely, pines experienced greater drought stress under competition, with both oaks and pines. View Full-Text
Keywords: mixed forests; competition; facilitation; niche segregation; tree-ring width; carbon isotopes; oxygen isotopes; water uptake; Pinus halepensis Mill.; Quercus ilex L.