Tree growth in Switzerland is increasingly constrained by rising evaporative demand

Volodymyr Trotsiuk, Flurin Babst, Charlotte Grossiord, Arthur Gessler, David I. Forrester, Nina Buchmann, Marcus Schaub, Werner Eugster

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


The response of trees to intra-annual environmental constraints varies temporally throughout a growing season and spatially across landscapes. A better understanding of these dynamics will help us anticipate the impacts of short-term climate variability and medium-term climate change on forests. Using the process-based 3-PG forest ecosystem model, we assessed the spatial manifestation and seasonal variation in environmental constraints [vapour pressure deficit (VPD), air temperature and soil water availability] on tree growth for the potential distribution range of seven widespread Central European tree species. We focused our analyses on Switzerland, where large climatic gradients occur within a comparatively small geographic area. On average, over the last 60 years, simulated forest growth during the May–August growing season was limited by high VPD (67% of the forested area), low air temperature (29%) or low soil water availability (4%). But this response varied among species and across elevations. When comparing the period 1961–1990 with 1991–2018, we observed major shifts from former temperature limitation to recent VPD limitation across 12% of the area (3%–25%, depending on species), mainly at mid-elevations (700–1,200 m a.s.l.). At the same time, forest growth at lower elevations (i.e. below 700 m a.s.l.) became more limited by available soil water at the end of the growing season. Synthesis. Our results highlight how the relative impact of environmental growth constraints has shifted in the last three decades, and show that the importance of VPD as a dominant environmental growth constraint has increased for tree species in Swiss and Central European forests. Understanding the spatial and temporal variability in environmental growth constraints will help to generate accurate species-specific risk maps for forest managers to identify areas with elevated drought and heat stress in the near future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2981-2990
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Ecology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • 3-PG
  • VPD
  • climate change
  • drought
  • growth limitation
  • tree-rings

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Plant Science


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