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Over recent decades, climate change has been particularly severe in the Mediterranean basin, where the intensity and frequency of drought events have had a significant effect on tree growth and mortality. In this context, differences in structural and physiological strategies between tree species could help to mitigate the damage inflicted by climate variability and drought events. Here, we used dendroecological approaches to observe common associations (synchrony) between indexed ring width in Pinus pinea and P. pinaster, as a measure of degree of dependence on climate variation or growth sensitivity to climate, as well as to analyze species growth responses to drought events through the Lloret’s indices of resistance, recovery and resilience. Based on data from 75 mixed and pure plots installed in the Northern Plateau of Spain, we used modeling tools to detect the effect of the mixture, along with climate and stand-related variables, on the short-term responses and long-term growth sensitivity to climate. Our results showed a trade-off between resistance and recovery after the drought episodes. In addition, different attributes of tree species, such as age and size as well as stand density seemed to act synergistically and compensate drought stress in different ways. The presence of age and quadratic mean diameter as covariates in the final synchrony model for P. pinaster reflected the influence of other variables as modulators of growth response to climate. Furthermore, differences in growth synchrony in mixed and monospecific composition suggested the existence of interactions between the two species and some degree of temporal niche complementarity. In mixed stands, P. pinaster exhibited a lower sensitivity to climate than in monospecific composition, whereas P. pinea enhanced its resistance to extreme droughts. These results allowed us to identify the species-specific behavior of P. pinea and P. pinaster to mitigate vulnerability to climate-related extremes.

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Spruce-fir-beech mixed forests cover a large area in European mountain regions, with high ecological and socio-economic importance. As elevation-zone systems they are highly affected by climate change, which is modifying species growth patterns and productivity shifts among species. The extent to which associated tree species can access resources and grow asynchronously may affect their resistance and persistence under climate change. Intra-specific synchrony in annual tree growth is a good indicator of species specific dependence on environmental conditions variability. However, little attention has been paid to explore the role of the inter-specific growth asynchrony in the adaptation of mixed forests to climate change. Here we used a database of 1790 tree-ring series collected from 28 experimental plots in spruce-fir-beech mixed forests across Europe to explore how spatio-temporal patterns of the intra- and inter-specific growth synchrony relate to climate variation during the past century. We further examined whether synchrony in growth response to inter-annual environmental fluctuations depended on site conditions. We found that the inter-specific growth synchrony was always lower than the intra-specific synchrony, for both high (inter-annual fluctuations) and low frequency (mid- to long-term) growth variation, suggesting between species niche complementarity at both temporal levels. Intra- and inter-specific synchronies in inter-annual growth fluctuations significantly changed along elevation, being greater at higher elevations. Moreover, the climate warming likely induced temporal changes in synchrony, but the effect varied along the elevation gradient. The synchrony strongly intensified at lower elevations likely due to climate warming and drying conditions. Our results suggest that intra- and inter-specific growth synchrony can be used as an indicator of temporal niche complementarity among species. We conclude that spruce-fir-beech mixtures should be preferred against mono-specific forests to buffer climate change impacts in mountain regions.