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A local population of Pyrus pyraster was studied in dry and warm habitats: xerothermic grasslands Potentillo-Stipetum capillatae and Adonido-Brachypodietum, as well as thermophilous oak forest Quercetum pubescentipetraeae in the forest-steppe Bielinek Reserve (NW Poland). Our aims were to assess: (1) the ability of this species to adapt to extremely dry sites, as a pioneer woody plant; (2) its phytosociological position; and (3) morphological variation and genetic diversity of the local population. The pear trees in Bielinek Reserve seem to reach an optimum in shrub communities of the class Rhamno-Prunetea, but tree age clearly indicates that the grasslands were colonized by wild pear trees already before the shrub communities developed. This indicates that P. pyraster can colonize very dry, eroded sites, such as steep sunny slopes covered by xerothermic grasslands. Wild pear trees form plant communities that are a seral stage followed by forest-shrub communities or thermophilous forests. The species in xerothermic shrub communities of the reserve shows a high constancy. It is also very resistant to extreme temperatures, insolation, drought, and erosion. Its tree-ring width (on average 1.1 mm per year) was strongly related to precipitation and temperature in spring and summer. High precipitation resulted in wider tree rings, while dry years (associated with high air temperature) caused a decrease in tree-ring width. Another significant factor is precipitation in winter, which had a positive influence on tree-ring width. Microsatellite markers revealed a high level of genetic diversity in this population. Our results suggest that wild pear can be recommended for afforestation of areas affected by droughts and disturbed sites in Central Europe. It can be used to increase the heterogeneity of the landscape, e.g. by creation of forest ecotones and for planting along roads and field margins, especially considering the predicted climate change.
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