Exploring Cryptic Mediterranean Abies alba Stands to Check a Genetic Climate Impact Hypothesis and Vegetation Model Projections

Global change may cause irreversible changes in European vegetation; given that drought frequency, area and duration will increase, forest composition, structure, and extension might be profoundly affected. Besides, increasing heat may stress plants, and disturbance related to drought may increase (e.g., fire) as well as pathogen attacks pertaining to globalization and the intercontinental exchange of goods. Today Abies alba, the tallest tree species in Europe, mainly grows in cool and moist areas. Strikingly, recent findings indicate the Holocene and Eemian expansion of A. alba under warm-temperate to subtropical conditions in Southern Europe under moderate summer droughts. New surveys also reveal the presence of cryptic submediterranean and mesomediterranean stands of A. alba, at the warmest sites mixed with evergreen broadleaved species under warm and summer-dry conditions. This novel finding underpins that A. alba might be regionally adapted to cope with warm Mediterranean climates, with important implications for nature restoration and forest management in Europe.

In this project, we focus on Abies alba within large latitudinal and altitudinal gradients in Ticino and Italy. With this implementation in mind, A. alba populations are being visited in different climatic conditions ranging from the warm and dry Varramista to Ticino's cold and moist mountains close to treeline. While genetic differentiation of the population is being investigated with genotyping studies, aDNA studies will help us to link modern and Holocene populations. Furthermore, a better understanding of the climatic responses of warm-loving A. alba will also be realized with the help of tree rings from Tuscan populations. Ultimately, we aim to generate more profound knowledge about the ecology and genetics of A. alba to simulate the behavior of the species with the dynamic vegetation model LandClim under future climate warming.

Abies alba at Varramista
Abies alba at Varramista, Tuscany (70 m a.s.l) © Willy Tinner
Abies alba at Locarno
Abies alba at Locarno, Ticino (1635 m a.s.l) © Christoph Schwörer


Sevil Coşgun holds a doctoral scholarship funded by the Ministry of National Education (Turkey).



Sevil Coşgun, Erika Gobet, Christoph Schwörer, Willy Tinner


Nadir Alvarez, Giuliano Bonanomi, Gabriele Carraro, Paolo Cherubini, Marco Conedera, Felix Gugerli, Maria Chiara Manetti, Christoph Sperisen