Fagus sylvatica L. Peripheral Populations in the Mediterranean Iberian Peninsula: Climatic or Anthropic Relicts?

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Sánchez de Dios R., Gómez C., Aulló I., Cañellas I., Gea-Izquierdo G., Montes F., Sainz-Ollero H., Velázquez J.C., Hernández L. (2020) - Fagus sylvatica L. Peripheral Populations in the Mediterranean Iberian Peninsula: Climatic or Anthropic Relicts? - Ecosystems

European beech is a temperate species with peripheral populations in the Mediterranean mountains. These Mediterranean beech forests have often been interpreted as climatic relicts. However, the use of this term does not always seem appropriate because their recent post-glacial expansion in the Iberian Peninsula makes it difficult to disentangle the effects of climate from those associated with land use. Moreover, the observed recovery of Mediterranean beech forests after land-use abandonment is not what might be expected of a climatic relict. Our objective is to clarify this issue by studying one of these Mediterranean ‘‘relict’’ populations located at the south-western margin of this species (Iberian Central Range), discriminating between subpopulations with dissimilar land-use legacies. Differences between the climatic range of this population and the rest of the European beech forests were explored. Historic and recent shifts in the species distribution area were studied by reviewing paleorecords from the literature and contrasting historical and recent cartography. Field data on population structure and demography were also examined. The climatic analyses do not point to climatic marginality of the peripheral population studied. Furthermore, the results revealed no evidence of reduction in area or confinement over recent decades. Contrary to what is expected for climatic relict species under current climate, beech is expanding in the studied mountain following the abandonment of traditional land uses, particularly since the middle of the twentieth century CE. Our results do not support the concept of a climatic relict but rather, they point to the importance of anthropogenic legacies to explain the distribution area, population dynamics and current conservation status of Mediterranean beech forests.

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