Complex climate controls on 20th century oak growth in Central-West Germany

Dagmar A. Friedrichs, Ulf Bntgen, David C. Frank, Jan Esper, Burkhard Neuwirth, Jorg Loffler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

121 Scopus citations


We analyze interannual to multi-decadal growth variations of 555 oak trees from Central-West Germany. A network of 13 pedunculate oak (Quercus robur L.) and 33 sessile oak (Quercus petraea (Matt.) Liebl.) site chronologies is compared with gridded temperature, precipitation, cloud-cover, vapor pressure and drought (i.e., Palmer Drought Severity Index, PDSI) fluctuations. A hierarchic cluster analysis identifies three groups for each oak species differentiated by ecologic settings. When high precipitation is primarily a characteristic for one Q. robur and one Q. petraea cluster, the other clusters are more differentiated by prevailing temperature conditions. Correlation analysis with precipitation and vapor pressure reveals statistically significant (P ≤ 0.05) correlations for June (r = 0.51) and annual (r = 0.43) means. Growth of both species at dry sites correlates strongly with PDSI (r = 0.39, P ≤ 0.05), and weakly with temperature and cloud-cover. In natural stands, Q. robur responds more strongly to water depletion than Q. petraea. Twenty-one-year moving correlations show positive significant growth response to both PDSI and precipitation throughout the 20th century, except for the 1940s an anomalously warm decade during which all oak sites are characterized by an increased growth and an enhanced association with vapor pressure and temperature. We suggest that the wider oak rings that are exhibited during this period may be indicative of a nonlinear or threshold-induced growth response to drought and vapor pressure, and run counter to the general response of oak to drought and precipitation that normally would result in suppressed growth in a warmer and drier environment. As the wide rings are formed during the severe drought period of the 20th century, a complex model seems to be required to fully explain the widespread oak growth. Our results indicate uncertainty in estimates of future growth trends of Central European oak forests in a warming and drying world.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)39-51
Number of pages13
JournalTree Physiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Dendroclimatology
  • Drought
  • Global warming
  • Quercus petraea (Matt.) Liebl.
  • Quercus robur L.
  • Tree-rings

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science


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