Hunziker S, Begert M, Scherrer S C, Rigling A, Gessler A (2022) Below average midsummer to early autumn precipitation evolved into the main driver of sudden Scots pine vitality decline in the Swiss Rhône Valley. Frontiers in Forests and Global Change, 5: . [10.3389/ffgc.2022.874100]


Pinus sylvestris L.,Forest dieback,tree mortality,Crown defoliation,Climate Change,heat drought,Reference evapotranspiration,Soil drought


The vitality of Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) is declining since the 1990s in many European regions. This was mostly attributed to the occurrence of hotter droughts, other climatic changes and secondary biotic stressors. However, it is still not well understood which specific atmospheric trends and extremes caused the observed spatio-temporal dieback patterns. In the Swiss Rhône valley, we identified negative precipitation anomalies between midsummer and early autumn as the main driver of sudden vitality decline and dieback events. Whereas climate change from 1981 to 2018 did not lead to a reduced water input within this time of the year, the potential evapotranspiration strongly increased in spring and summer. This prolonged and intensified the period of low soil moisture between midsummer and autumn, making Scots pines critically dependent on substantial precipitation events which temporarily reduce the increased water stress. Thus, local climate characteristics (namely midsummer to early autumn precipitation minima) are decisive for the spatial occurrence of vitality decline events, as the lowest minima outline the most affected regions within the Swiss Rhône valley. Mortality events will most likely spread to larger areas and accelerate the decline of Scots pines at lower elevations, whereas higher altitudes may remain suitable Scots pine habitats. The results from our regional study are relevant on larger geographic scales because the same processes seem to play a key role in other European regions increasingly affected by Scots pine dieback events.

LWF Classification

Network: LWF;Experimental, Sites: Lens;Visp;Pfynwald, Category: ISI,