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Bioclimatic envelopes for individual demographic events driven by extremes: Plant mortality from drought and warming

November 28, 2018

The occurrence of plant species across the globe is largely constrained by climate. Ecologists use plant-climate relationships such as bioclimatic envelopes and related niche models to determine potential environmental conditions promoting probable species occurrence. Traditionally bioclimatic envelopes either exclude disturbance explicitly, or only include disturbance as infrequent and smaller scale processes, assuming that the net effect of climate parameters on key demographic processes predict longer-term equilibrial responses of biota. Due to increasing frequency and extent of extreme events associated with climate change, ecologists may need to increase focus on individual demographic events driven by environmental extremes such as widespread coral bleaching or large-scale tree die-off. An expanded focus on how extreme events catalyze individual demographic events would complement existing tools that predict long-term equilibrial biogeographic responses associated with long-term trends in climate. In many cases, extreme conditions (e.g. drought) are a necessary precursor for an abrupt demographic event (e.g. large-scale tree die-off) and the effects of extremes can be exacerbated by climatic trends (e.g. higher temperatures in combination with drought). Here, we highlight application of bioclimatic models for predicting individual demographic events. Defining the environmental conditions that precipitate demographic events such as widespread tree mortality is a necessary precursor for applying predictions to geographic space, and may require challenging biota with experiments that impose a combination of ecologically extreme conditions in one parameter and a shifting distribution in another (e.g. drought under higher temperatures). Currently data on conditions that drive individual demographic events associated with extremes are usually rare, aggregated across time, and/or correlative. We highlight this approach with a case study of drought-induced mortality in adult Pinus edulis trees that predicts a more than five-fold increase in frequency of die-off events under a global change scenario of high emissions. This general approach complements both traditional bioclimatic envelopes and more detailed physiological approaches currently being refined to address climate change challenges. Notably, this proposed approach could be developed for any climate condition or plant life stage, offering promise for improving predictions of individual demographic events that are rapidly altering ecosystems globally.

Publication Year 2019
Title Bioclimatic envelopes for individual demographic events driven by extremes: Plant mortality from drought and warming
DOI 10.1086/700702
Authors Darin J. Law, Henry D. Adams, David D. Breshears, Neil S. Cobb, John B. Bradford, Chris B. Zou, Jason P. Field, Alfonso A. Gardea, A. Park Williams, Travis E. Huxman
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title International Journal of Plant Sciences
Index ID 70205182
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Southwest Biological Science Center