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An integrative ecological drought framework to span plant stress to ecosystem transformation

September 19, 2020

Droughts have increased globally in the twenty-first century and are expected to become more extreme and widespread in the future. Assessments of how drought affects plants and ecosystems lack consistency in scope and methodology, confounding efforts to mechanistically interpret structural and functional impacts and predict future transformations under climate change. To promote integration among studies, we identify water deficit conditions that are ecologically meaningful, clarify the stages in which ecological drought progresses, and consider approaches to synthesize drought effects across multiple species and ecosystems. This improved ecological drought framework reveals advantages of using different ecological drought metrics and strengthens approaches to distinguish ecosystem stress from crossing an irreversible threshold. We employ several well-studied examples from water-limited ecosystems, which contain plants that are often at their physiological limits and highly responsive to climate variability. We suggest that emerging research on early warning signs, drought recovery, and the effects of land management interventions be incorporated into the ecological drought framework. An integrative approach to understand ecological drought can accelerate scientific advancement and create opportunity to adapt and prepare for crossing irreversible ecosystem thresholds.

Publication Year 2021
Title An integrative ecological drought framework to span plant stress to ecosystem transformation
DOI 10.1007/s10021-020-00555-y
Authors Seth M. Munson, John B. Bradford, Kevin R. Hultine
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecosystems
Index ID 70214565
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Southwest Biological Science Center