Question: What components of drought influence the drought limit of Fagus sylvatica forests? This study contributes to the ongoing discussion regarding the future of Fagus as a major component of central European forests.
Location: The drought limit of F. sylvatica at its ecotone with forest dominated by Quercus pubescens, Q. petraea and their hybrids in two limestone regions (Klettgau, Schwäbische Alb) in southwestern Germany was compared.
Methods: Vegetation relevés were classified and a gradient analysis was performed. The vegetation pattern was analysed with several drought relevant variables. Classification trees were used to determine the drought limits of the Fagus forest.
Results: The Fagus, Quercus and the ecotone forests were floristically characterized. The lower humidity in the submontane Klettgau, compared to the montane Schwäbische Alb, was compensated for by greater soil moisture (ASWSC). Therefore, Fagus forest in the Schwäbische Alb grew on sites with ASWSC values similar to those of ecotone forest in Klettgau.
Conclusions: The interaction between climatic and edaphic drought related factors demonstrates that drought is a complex edaphic-climatic factor. Both components contribute to limiting the distribution of Fagus. For the two regions in southwestern Germany, and under the existing climatic conditions, it could be shown that Fagus is able to dominate forests on soils with very low ASWSC (≥ 68 l.m−2).
Nomenclature: Oberdorfer (1994).