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Global convergence in the vulnerability of forests to drought


Choat, B and Jansen, S and Brodribb, TJ and Cochard, H and Delzon, S and Bhaskar, R and Bucci, SJ and Feild, TS and Gleason, SM and Hacke, UG and Jacobsen, AL and Lens, F and Maherali, H and Martinez-Vilalta, J and Mayr, S and Mencuccini, M and Mitchell, PJ and Nardini, A and Pittermann, J and Pratt, RB and Sperry, JS and Westoby, M and Wright, IJ and Zanne, AE, Global convergence in the vulnerability of forests to drought, Nature, 491, (7426) pp. 752-755. ISSN 0028-0836 (2012) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

Copyright 2012 Macmillan Publishers Limited.

DOI: doi:10.1038/nature11688


Shifts in rainfall patterns and increasing temperatures associated with climate change are likely to cause widespread forest decline in regions where droughts are predicted to increase in duration and severity1. One primary cause of productivity loss and plant mortality during drought is hydraulic failure2, 3, 4. Drought stress creates trapped gas emboli in the water transport system, which reduces the ability of plants to supply water to leaves for photosynthetic gas exchange and can ultimately result in desiccation and mortality. At present we lack a clear picture of how thresholds to hydraulic failure vary across a broad range of species and environments, despite many individual experiments. Here we draw together published and unpublished data on the vulnerability of the transport system to drought-induced embolism for a large number of woody species, with a view to examining the likely consequences of climate change for forest biomes. We show that 70% of 226 forest species from 81 sites worldwide operate with narrow (<1 megapascal) hydraulic safety margins against injurious levels of drought stress and therefore potentially face long-term reductions in productivity and survival if temperature and aridity increase as predicted for many regions across the globe5, 6. Safety margins are largely independent of mean annual precipitation, showing that there is global convergence in the vulnerability of forests to drought, with all forest biomes equally vulnerable to hydraulic failure regardless of their current rainfall environment. These findings provide insight into why drought-induced forest decline is occurring not only in arid regions but also in wet forests not normally considered at drought risk7, 8.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:vulnerability xylem drought
Research Division:Biological Sciences
Research Group:Plant biology
Research Field:Plant physiology
Objective Division:Expanding Knowledge
Objective Group:Expanding knowledge
Objective Field:Expanding knowledge in the environmental sciences
UTAS Author:Brodribb, TJ (Professor Tim Brodribb)
ID Code:82463
Year Published:2012
Funding Support:Australian Research Council (FT100100237)
Web of Science® Times Cited:1547
Deposited By:Plant Science
Deposited On:2013-02-04
Last Modified:2017-11-01
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