Xylem anatomy of Robinia pseudoacacia L. and Quercus robur L. is differently affected by climate in a temperate alluvial forest.
Key message: Xylem hydraulic traits of native Quercus robur are more sensitive to previous-summer drought than those of alien Robinia pseudoacacia. The latter modulates vessel traits and ring porosity to cope with inter-annual climate variability, and is less affected by extreme events. This suggests that R. pseudoacacia might be more competitive under future drier conditions. Context: Forest management strategies require knowledge on how co-occurring native and alien species respond to unprecedented climate conditions, which can severely affect xylem conductivity and tree performance. Aims: We aimed at quantitatively comparing xylem anatomical traits of co-occurring native Quercus robur and alien Robinia pseudoacacia and assessing similarities and differences in their response to climate variability. Methods: We analyzed tree-ring anatomy and built chronologies of several parameters related to vessel number, size, and theoretical conductivity. Mean chronologies for each parameter were correlated to monthly temperature and precipitation data for the period 1954-2005 and within 30-year moving windows. We also assessed responses to extreme conditions in 2003. Results: Quercus robur showed typical ring-porous vessel distribution, while R. pseudoacacia modulated vessel size and number year by year, frequently showing semi-ring porous appearance. Previous rainy summers increased size of large vessels in Q. robur, and number of large vessels in R. pseudoacacia. In winter, R. pseudoacacia was sensitive to water excess. High temperature in March increased vessel size in Q. robur, but reduced it in R. pseudoacacia. The 2003 summer heatwave strongly reduced vessel size and number in the following year in Q. robur, but had much less effect on R. pseudoacacia. Conclusion: Quercus robur xylem traits are more influenced by both inter-annual climate variability and extreme events than those of R. pseudoacacia. Lower performance under dry conditions might reduce competitiveness of Q. robur in the future, slowing down the natural replacement of the invasive pioneer R. pseudoacacia by later-stage Q. robur..