The effects of repeated droughts on different kinds of forests — ScienceDaily
Drought is endemic to the American West along with heatwaves and intense wildfires. But scientists are only beginning to understand how the effects of multiple droughts can compound to affect forests differently than a single drought alone.
UC Santa Barbara forest ecologist Anna Trugman — along with her colleagues at the University of Utah, Stanford University and the U.S. Forest Service — investigated the effects of repeated, extreme droughts on various types of forests across the globe. They found that a variety of factors can increase and decrease a forest’s resilience to subsequent droughts. However, the study, published in Nature Climate Change, concluded that successive droughts are generally increasingly detrimental to forests, even when each drought was no more extreme than the initial one.
Droughts usually leave individual trees more vulnerable to subsequent droughts. “Compounding extreme events can be really stressful on forests and trees,” said Trugman, an assistant professor in the Department of Geography. She compares the experience to a person battling an illness: You’ll be harder hit if you get sick again while you’re still recovering.
That said, the case is not quite so clear cut. “Theoretically, responses to subsequent droughts could be quite varied depending on a wide range of tree-level and ecosystem-level factors,” said lead author William Anderegg, an assistant professor at the University of Utah. So, while a drought may place a tree under considerable stress, it could also kill off some of its neighbors, leaving the survivors with less competition for water should arid conditions return.
Trugman and her colleagues used a variety of data sources to investigate this effect on a broad scale. Tree ring data spanning over 100 years enabled them to see how trees that survived an initial drought grew afterward. Data from the U.S. Forest Inventory and Analysis gave