Response of European yews to climate change: a review

Peter Thomas, Xavier Garcia-Marti


Aim of study: Being the longest-lived of all European trees, capable of living significantly over 2,000 years, yew is highly likely to be negatively affected by climate change; this paper explores the changes in distribution and abundance. 

Main results: Yew is unlikely to migrate north due to its slow rate of invasion, its disjunct soil needs and an inability to cope with the expected rate of climate change. It will, however, retreat from the southern end of its range in Spain due to increased evapotranspiration allied to reduced rainfall. In the south, increased drought will be exacerbated by extreme drought and increased fire frequency. In drier areas at the northern edge of its range, yew will decline where growing on well-drained limestone outcrops with little shelter from the sun (increased evaporation) and reduced water availability due to limited root spread.  On wetter northern sites, yew should find better climatic conditions but will be slow to invade new areas due to poorer reproduction affected by reduced pollen production, population fragmentation and limited seed movement. Overall, without our intervention, yew will survive by inertia in the short-term but eventual become extinct in most areas. Of equal concern will be the loss of old veteran individuals and associated biodiversity. 

Research highlights: There is an urgent need for interventionist management for both old and young trees, relieving the stress on old veteran trees, and planting and maintaining seedlings through vulnerable young age. A list of management priorities is given.

Keywords: Yew; Taxus baccata; Temperature; Precipitation; Seedlings; Bioclimate envelope; Species range.

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DOI: 10.5424/fs/2015243-07465