Climate change may affect tree-pathogen interactions. This possibility has important implications for drought-prone forests, where stand dynamics and disease pathogenicity are especially sensitive to climatic stress. In addition, stand structural attributes including density-dependent tree-to-tree competition may modulate the stands' resistance to drought events and pathogen outbreaks. To assess the effects of stand structure on root-rot-related mortality after severe droughts, we focused on Heterobasidion abietinum mortality in relict Spanish stands of Abies pinsapo, a drought-sensitive fir. We compared stand attributes and tree spatial patterns in three plots with H. abietinum root-rot disease and three plots without root-rot. Point-pattern analyses were used to investigate the scale and extent of mortality patterns and to test hypotheses related to the spread of the disease. Dendrochronology was used to date the year of death and to assess the association between droughts and growth decline. We applied a structural equation modelling approach to test if tree mortality occurs more rapidly than predicted by a simple distance model when trees are subjected to high tree-to-tree competition and following drought events. Contrary to expectations of drought mortality, the effect of precipitation on the year of death was strong and negative, indicating that a period of high precipitation induced an earlier tree death. Competition intensity, related to the size and density of neighbour trees, also induced an earlier tree death. The effect of distance to the disease focus was negligible except in combination with intensive competition. Our results indicate that infected trees have decreased ability to withstand drought stress, and demonstrate that tree-to-tree competition and fungal infection act as predisposing factors of forest decline and mortality.
- Basal-area increment
- Climate change
- Point-pattern analysis
- Structural equation modelling
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics