Quarantining the Sahara desert: growth and water-use efficiency of Aleppo pine in the Algerian Green Barrier

Zineb Choury, Tatiana A. Shestakova, Hocine Himrane, Ramzi Touchan, Dalila Kherchouche, J. Julio Camarero, Jordi Voltas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


The Algerian Green Barrier, mainly composed of native and artificial Aleppo pine forests, spreads along the pre-Saharan steppes and is threatened by anthropogenic and natural disturbances, including climate change. We hypothesized that the ecophysiological functioning of this conifer has been substantially modified in reaction to recent warming and drought much beyond the expected effect of CO2 fertilization. Our aim was to characterize the long-term performance (1925–2013) of native Aleppo pines thriving at their southernmost distribution. We used tree-ring width (TRW) and carbon isotope discrimination (Δ13C) to characterize basal area increment (BAI) and intrinsic water-use efficiency (WUEi) at three sites. BAI remained stable or slightly increased over time, with mean values ranging between 4.0 and 6.3 cm2 year−1. Conversely, site-Δ13C decreased from −0.022 to −0.014‰ year−1 along time, which translated into WUEi increases of ca. 39%. This strong physiological reaction indicated that pines were responding simultaneously to rising CO2 and drier conditions, inducing a progressively tighter stomatal control of water losses. However, WUEi increments were essentially unrelated to BAI and did not affect carbon reserves, which suggests a high resilience to climate change. This finding could be due to shifts in growing season towards earlier months in winter–spring, as suggested by temporal changes in climate factors underlying Δ13C and TRW. Our study highlights the substantial plasticity of Aleppo pine, but this species is unlikely to follow a similar pace of ecophysiological adjustments according to unprecedented low Δ13C records and lack of WUEi stimulation observed from 2000 onwards.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)139-152
Number of pages14
JournalEuropean Journal of Forest Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017


  • Carbon isotope discrimination
  • Dendroecology
  • Forest growth
  • Maghreb
  • Pinus halepensis
  • Water-use efficiency

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Plant Science


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