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Synergistic effect of drought and chestnut blight (Cryphonectria parasitica) on growth decline of European chestnut (Castanea sativa)

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The chestnut blight fungus [Cryphonectria parasitica (Murill) Barr] has threatened European chestnut stands (Castanea sativa Mill.) in the 20th century, but infected trees recovered because of the appearance of hypovirulent strains. However, within a dry inner Alpine valley (Italy), blight-infected C. sativa showing various degrees of crown dieback and dead trees were found. We conducted a dendroecological analysis to retrospectively evaluate a possible synergistic effect of blight infection in the early 1970s and climate stress on the growth decline of C. sativa. In the Eisack Valley (Italy), where annual precipitation is <700 mm, increment cores were taken from blight-infected C. sativa (n = 103) showing different levels of decline symptoms, i.e. extent of crown dieback (healthy, moderate, severe), and from dead trees. Ring width and basal area increment (BAI) chronologies were developed based on dendroecological methods. Growth–climate relationships were explored using response function analysis and Pearson correlation coefficients. Major findings of our study were: (i) C. sativa growth is limited by low precipitation from December to February and high temperatures in June, (ii) BAI of all vitality classes except healthy trees shows a decreasing trend since 1980; and (iii) a severe drought in 1996 accelerated growth decline and caused death of infected C. sativa individuals. Because of the strong influence of climate on radial tree growth within the study area and observed divergent growth trends in selected vitality classes after infestation by hypovirulent C. parasitica strains in the early 1970s, we conclude that although blight infection is a prerequisite for observed growth declines, soil water availability in the years of drought strongly affects susceptibility to tree death.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Institute of Botany, University of Innsbruck, Sternwartestrasse 15, A-6020 Innsbruck, Austria

Publication date: 2009-02-01

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