Environmental control of daily stem growth patterns in five temperate broad-leaved tree species

Paul Köcher, Viviana Horna, Christoph Leuschner, Marc Abrams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

90 Scopus citations


Tree ring analysis investigates growth processes at time horizons of several weeks to millennia, but lacks the detail of short-term fluctuation in cambial activity. This study used electronic high-precision dendrometry for analyzing the environmental factors controlling stem diameter variation and radial growth in daily resolution in five co-existing temperate broad-leaved tree species (genera Fraxinus, Acer, Carpinus, Tilia and Fagus) with different growth and survival strategies. Daily stem radius change (SRCd) was primarily influenced by the atmospheric demand for water vapor (expressed either as vapor pressure deficit (D) or relative air humidity (RH)) while rainfall, soil matrix potential, temperature and radiation were only secondary factors. SRCd increased linearly with increasing RH and decreasing D in all species. The positive effect of a low atmospheric water vapor demand on SRCd was largest in June during the period of maximal radial growth rate and persisted when observation windows of 7 or 21 days instead of 1 day were used. We found a high synchronicity in the day-to-day growth rate fluctuation among the species with increment peaks corresponding to air humidity maxima, even though the mean daily radial growth rate differed fivefold among the species. The five species also differed in the positive slope of the growth/RH relationship with the steepest increase found in Fraxinus and the lowest in Fagus. We explain the strong positive effect of high RH and low D on radial stem increment by lowered transpiration which reduces negative pressure in the conducting system and increases turgor in the stem cambium cells, thereby favoring cell division and expansion. The results suggest that mechanistic models of tree growth need to consider the atmospheric water status in addition to the known controlling environmental factors: temperature, soil moisture and precipitation. The results further have implications for sensitivity analyses of tree growth to climatic changes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1021-1032
Number of pages12
JournalTree Physiology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science


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