Understanding the vulnerability of individual trees to climate requires moving from population to individual level. This study evaluates individual tree response in a mixed forest by assessing how size and neighbourhood density modulated growth responses to climate among coexisting tree species. To understand the complete variation in growth responses to climate, it is necessary to consider intrapopulation variability. Trees respond as individual entities, and their response is modulated by their characteristics and neighbourhood context. To assess the individual climate sensitivity, all living Iberian birches, European beeches, and pedunculate oaks trees located in a temperate mixed forest were cored in four 40 m × 40 m plots. Standard ring-width chronologies were built at tree and species level for the 1977–2007 period. Chronologies were related to climatic variables (monthly precipitation, hailstorm and mean temperature, and summer (June–August) precipitation). Growth response to climate varied among species and individual trees. Differences in climate–growth relationship among species could be partially attributed to the different xylem anatomy, since secondary growth of ring-porous pedunculate oak (Quercus robur
L.) was mainly dependent on the previous-winter climatic conditions (January temperature), while for the diffuse-porous Iberian birch (Betula celtiberica
Rothm. and Vasc.) and European beech (Fagus sylvatica
L.), spring temperature and summer precipitation were the major constraining factors of growth. Tree features and identity of neighbourhood modulated climatic response, especially for Iberian birch and pedunculate oak. Dominant trees in less crowded neighbourhoods responded more intensely to climate factors. Understanding the individual variability of growth responses to climate will provide more realistic predictions of forests response to climate change.
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