Effects of experimental stem burial on radial growth and wood anatomy of pedunculate oak

Copini, P.; Decuyper, M.; Sass-Klaassen, U.G.W.; Gärtner, H.; Mohren, G.M.J.; Ouden, J. den


In dendrogeomorphology, abrupt changes in wood anatomy are frequently used to date the exact year of burial and exposure events. However, few studies have addressed the precision and underlying mechanisms of these changes. In a field experiment, performed in a drift-sand area in the Netherlands, we buried the stems of mature pedunculate oak trees (Quercus robur L.) up to a height of 50 cm and analysed the responses in ring width and earlywood-vessel characteristics, while monitoring the course of temperature above and below the soil surface. After 3 years of stem burial, we found no significant differences in ring width and earlywood-vessel characteristics between control and buried trees both above and below the burial level. Burial however strongly reduced temperature amplitude and the occurrence of sub-zero temperatures around the buried stems. All buried trees formed epitropic roots that grew upward into the new sediment layer, but no adventitious roots were formed on the buried stems. Irrespective of the burial treatments, we found that the mean ring width was largest at the original stem base and lowest at breast height. In contrast, vessel sizes were significantly larger at breast height compared with the stem base. Differences in vessel density barely differed between years and heights. In our field experiment on mature pedunculate oak trees, the burial of stems by 50 cm of drift sand did not induce any local growth suppression or detectable changes in wood anatomy. As wood-anatomical changes in response to burial have previously been reported for trees that had formed adventitious roots, we stress the role of adventitious-root formation as a possible trigger behind the local changes in wood anatomy, reflecting a functional change of a buried stem towards a root. Based on our field experiment, it seems unlikely that years of shallow or moderate burial events (=50 cm) can be reconstructed using the wood structure of buried stems. As epitropic roots develop quickly after burial, dating such roots may potentially yield better estimates of burial events. Further research on the relation between adventitious root and changes in stem anatomy is needed to ascertain the precision of dating sand-burial events using tree rings.