Forest and woodland replacement patterns following drought-related mortality. uri icon

abstract

  • Forest vulnerability to drought is expected to increase under anthropogenic climate change, and drought-induced mortality and community dynamics following drought have major ecological and societal impacts. Here, we show that tree mortality concomitant with drought has led to short-term (mean 5 y, range 1 to 23 y after mortality) vegetation-type conversion in multiple biomes across the world (131 sites). Self-replacement of the dominant tree species was only prevalent in 21% of the examined cases and forests and woodlands shifted to nonwoody vegetation in 10% of them. The ultimate temporal persistence of such changes remains unknown but, given the key role of biological legacies in long-term ecological succession, this emerging picture of postdrought ecological trajectories highlights the potential for major ecosystem reorganization in the coming decades. Community changes were less pronounced under wetter postmortality conditions. Replacement was also influenced by management intensity, and postdrought shrub dominance was higher when pathogens acted as codrivers of tree mortality. Early change in community composition indicates that forests dominated by mesic species generally shifted toward more xeric communities, with replacing tree and shrub species exhibiting drier bioclimatic optima and distribution ranges. However, shifts toward more mesic communities also occurred and multiple pathways of forest replacement were observed for some species. Drought characteristics, species-specific environmental preferences, plant traits, and ecosystem legacies govern post drought species turnover and subsequent ecological trajectories, with potential far-reaching implications for forest biodiversity and ecosystem services.

authors

publication date

  • 2020
  • 2020