Reconstruction of a 253-year long mast record of European beech reveals its association with large scale temperature variability and no long-term trend in mast frequencies.
Igor Drobyshev, Mats Niklasson, Marc Mazerolle, Yves Bergeron.
Synchronous production of large seed crops, or mast years (MYs), is a common feature of many Fagus species, which is closely linked to the dynamics of forest ecosystems, including regeneration of canopy trees and changes in animal population densities. To better understand its climatic controls and check for the presence of long-term temporal trends in MY frequencies, we reconstructed MY record of the European beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) for the southern Swedish province of Halland over 1753–2006. We used superimposed epoch analysis (SEA) to relate MY (a) to summer temperature fields over the European subcontinent and (b) to the patterns of 500 mb geopotential heights over the 35–75°N. For the MY reconstruction, we used newly developed regional beech ring-width chronology (1753–2006), an available summer temperature reconstruction, and a discontinuous historical MY record. A Monte Carlo experiment allowed identification of the thresholds in both growth and summer temperature anomalies, indicative of historical MYs, which were verified by dividing data into temporally independent calibration and verification sub-periods.
MYs were strongly associated with both the 500 mb height anomalies and average summer temperatures during two years preceding a MY: a mast year (t) followed a cold summer two years (t-2) prior to the mast year and a warm summer one year prior (t-1) to the mast year. During t-2 years, the geographical pattern of 500 mb height anomalies exhibited a strong height depression in the region centered in the Northern Sea and extending toward eastern North America and statistically significant (p < 0.05) temperature anomalies covering predominantly southern Scandinavia (area below 60 N) and British Isles. A year immediately preceding a mast year (t-1) was characterized by a strong regional high pressure anomaly centered in southern Scandinavia with significant temperature anomalies extended mostly over southern Scandinavia and Germany.
The long-term mean MY return interval was 6.3 years, with 50 and 90% probabilities of MY occurrence corresponding to 6 and 15 years, respectively. Periods with intervals significantly shorter than the long-term mean were observed around 1820–1860 and 1990–2006 (means – 3.9 and 3.2 years, respectively). However, the difference in return intervals between two sub-periods themselves was not significant.
Geographically large and temporally rapid changes in atmospheric circulation among years, responsible for summer temperature conditions in the Northern Europe, are likely primary environmental drivers of masting phenomenon. However, decadal and centurial variability in MY intervals is difficult to relate directly to temperature variability, suggesting the presence of conditions “canceling” would-be MYs. Long-term MY reconstruction demonstrates high variability of reproductive behavior in European beech and indicates that a period with shorter MY intervals at the end of 20th may be not unique in a multi-century perspective.