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Growth-limiting factors and climate response variability in Norway spruce (Picea abies L.) along an elevation and precipitation gradients in Slovenia

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Norway spruce (Picea abies L.) is among the most sensitive coniferous species to ongoing climate change. However, previous studies on its growth response to increasing temperatures have yielded contrasting results (from stimulation to suppression), suggesting highly site-specific responses. Here, we present the first study that applies two independent approaches, i.e. the nonlinear, process-based Vaganov-Shashkin (VS) model and linear daily response functions. Data were collected at twelve sites in Slovenia differing in climate regimes and ranging elevation between 170 and 1300 m a.s.l. VS model results revealed that drier Norway spruce sites at lower elevations are mostly moisture limited, while moist high-elevation sites are generally more temperature limited. Daily response functions match well the pattern of growth-limiting factors from the VS model and further explain the effect of climate on radial growth: prevailing growth-limiting factors correspond to the climate variable with higher correlations. Radial growth correlates negatively with rising summer temperature and positively with higher spring precipitation. The opposite response was observed for the wettest site at the highest elevation, which positively reacts to increased summer temperature and will most likely benefit from a warming climate. For all other sites, the future radial growth of Norway spruce largely depends on the balance between spring precipitation and summer temperature.

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Tree-ring data is available on request.


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We are grateful to Samo Stopar and Robert Krajnc, who helped with the fieldwork and tree-ring processing. We acknowledge the E-OBS dataset from the EU-FP6 project UERRA ( and the Copernicus Climate Change Service, and the data providers in the ECA&D project (


This research was supported by the Slovenian Research Agency: (1) bilateral cooperation between the Slovenian Forestry Institute and Siberian Federal University (ARRS BI-RU/19-20-016); (2) target research project “Adaptive management in spruce forests in Slovenia” (V4-1614); and (3) program and research group “Forest biology, ecology and technology” (P4-0107). In addition, JT was supported by the Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellowship. VS, MP and IT were supported by the Russian Ministry of Science and Higher Education (projects #FSRZ-2020-0010 and #FSRZ-2020-0014).

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J.J analysed the data and prepared the first version of the manuscript; V.S., J.G. and T.L. supervised the study; I.T. and J.T. parameterised the VS model for all sites; T.L. designed the sampling scheme and collected tree-ring data; J.T. contributed to the discussion and improved the manuscript; and D.A, P.P and M.P commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Jernej Jevšenak.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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R code used for the analysis is available upon request from the first author.

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Jevšenak, J., Tychkov, I., Gričar, J. et al. Growth-limiting factors and climate response variability in Norway spruce (Picea abies L.) along an elevation and precipitation gradients in Slovenia. Int J Biometeorol 65, 311–324 (2021).

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