Legacies of past forest management determine current responses to severe drought events of conifer species in the Romanian Carpathians.
Worldwide increases in droughts- and heat-waves-associated tree mortality events are destabilizing the future of many forests and the ecosystem services they provide. Along with climate, understanding the impact of the legacies of past forest management is key to better explain current responses of different tree species to climate change. We studied tree mortality events that peaked in 2012 affecting one native (silver fir; growing within its natural distribution range) and two introduced (black pine and Scots; growing outside their natural distribution range) conifer species from the Romanian Carpathians. The three conifers were compared in terms of mortality events, growth trends, growth resilience to severe drought events, climate-growth relationships, and regeneration patterns. The mortality rates of the three species were found to be associated with severe drought events. Nevertheless, the native silver fir seems to undergo a self-thinning process, while the future of the remaining living black pine and Scots pine trees is uncertain as they register significant negative growth trends. Overall, the native silver fir showed a higher resilience to severe drought events than the two introduced pine species. Furthermore, and unlike the native silver fir, black pine and Scots pine species do not successfully regenerate. A high diversity of native broadleaf species sprouts and develops instead under them suggesting that we might be witnessing a process of ecological succession, with broadleaves recovering their habitats. As native species seem to perform better in terms of resilience and regeneration than introduced species, the overall effect of the black pine and Scots pine mortality might be compensated. Legacies of past forest management should be taken into account in order to better understand current responses of different tree species to ongoing climate change.