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Is the spatial distribution of European beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) limited by its potential height growth?

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Abstract Aim 

To improve our understanding of species range limits by studying how height growth, a trait related to plant survival, varies throughout the geographic range of Fagus sylvatica L. in France. Location 

The geographic range of beech in France, representing the western area of its European distribution, within which this species exhibits range distribution limits in both plains and mountainous areas. Methods 

A generalized linear regression model was used to link beech growth performance to environmental variables using data from 819 plots of the French National Forest Inventory (IFN) database. This model was applied to predict potential growth on 97,281 IFN plots covering the geographic range of beech in France. A kriging technique was used to interpolate estimated growth potential. Finally, the performance of plot-based predictions of potential growth from the map (i.e. map quality) was evaluated against an independent data set. Results 

The beech growth performance model highlighted the major impact of climate on potential tree growth at a broad spatial scale. The relevant climatic factors were related mainly to spring cold, summer heat, and winter temperatures and rainfall. The study also revealed the predictive power of soil parameters, which explained a large proportion of the variation in potential beech growth (c. 30%). Analyses of height growth patterns near the boundary of the species range in France showed that the limit only partly coincides with the growth decline caused by climatic and soil factors. Along parts of the range limit, the predicted potential for growth was high, suggesting that in these areas the limit of the range could be explained by other factors, such as competition or constraints on reproduction. Main conclusions 

The spatial variation in the potential height growth of Fagus sylvatica can be explained by environmental factors and is partly correlated with its regional range limits. By identifying areas where growth potential constrains the geographic range of species, environmental growth models can help to improve our knowledge of the spatial drivers of species geographic range limits and shed light on their response to future environmental changes.
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Keywords: Climate; EcoPlant database; Fagus sylvatica L; France; growth; kriging; nitrogen supply; pH; species range

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: AgroParisTech, UMR1092 Laboratoire d'étude des Ressources Forêt-Bois (LERFoB), Nancy, France 2: Inventaire Forestier National, Nogent-sur-Vernisson, France 3: INRA, UMR1092 Laboratoire d’étude des Ressources Forêt-Bois (LERFoB), Nancy, France

Publication date: October 1, 2008

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