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Last update: May 2021

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[hal-03179773] Temporal trends in tree defoliation and response to multiple biotic and abiotic stresses

24 March 2021

The vitality of forests depends on multiple biotic and abiotic stresses that can act in an interactive way. Tree defoliation levels are therefore subject to long-term changes and shorter-term hazards that need to be monitored in the context of ongoing climate change. In this study, we analysed the combined effects of drought, insect attack and tree nutritional status on the level of defoliation in three major hardwood species in Europe: European beech (Fagus sylvatica), sessile oak (Quercus petraea) and pedunculate oak (Quercus robur). The forest condition data set was collected in the long-term intensive monitoring network in France (RENECOFOR). The average level of defoliation observed was 20% but varied considerably between plots and trees. From 1997 to 2015, beech defoliation worsened by 10% while oak defoliation stabilized over time. For the three tree species, crown defoliation was generally higher in the event of insect attack (increased by 2.6% to 7.5% depending on the tree species) and under drought (increased by 5.9%), while the effect of the tree nutritional statue was less consistent (from - 5.6% to + 10%) these factors acting synergistically. This study highlights the fact that the different stresses a tree species undergoes act in a complex and interactive way, with species-specific responses. In a context of increasing abiotic and biotic stresses, their combined analysis appears to be a necessity at a time when forest owners need to adapt their management to cope with climate change, particularly through the choice of tree species to be favoured in the future.