Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Landscape-scale forest restoration decreases vulnerability to drought mortality under climate change in southwest USA ponderosa forest

March 28, 2022

Drought-induced tree mortality is predicted to increase in dry forests across the western USA as future projections show hotter, drier climates potentially resulting in large-scale tree die-offs, changes in species composition, and loss of forest ecosystem services, including carbon storage. While some studies have found that forest stands with greater basal areas (BA) have higher drought mortality, many have not evaluated the extent to which forest structure, either overly dense forests due to fire suppression or forests restored to lower densities, interacts with drought mortality. The southwestern USA is particularly susceptible to tree mortality due to the predicted increases in temperature, drier soils, and forests with high density. Our objective was to evaluate how ponderosa pine mortality is expected to be influenced by the Four Forests Restoration Initiative, a large-scale forest restoration effort ongoing in northern Arizona, USA, that will reduce stand BA by approximately 40%. Specifically, we modeled drought mortality in three time periods, one contemporary (1970-2010), and two future (2020-2059 and 2060-2099) under three restoration scenarios: no thinning, 4FRI thinning, and a BA reduction beyond the 4FRI plan (4FRI-intensive). We estimated mortality using 11 climate models under two emissions scenarios. Without thinning, our model predicted that by mid-century (2020-2059), changes in climate could increase annual ponderosa pine mortality rates by 45-57% over contemporary rates. However, with thinning, mid-century mortality was predicted to remain near or below contemporary rates and these rates are 31-35% (4FRI) and 46-51% (4FRI-intensive) less than the mid-century scenarios without thinning. Our study shows that while climate change is likely to increase tree mortality rates, large-scale forest restoration projects, such as 4FRI, have the potential to ameliorate the effects of climate change and keep mortality rates near contemporary levels for decades.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2022
Title Landscape-scale forest restoration decreases vulnerability to drought mortality under climate change in southwest USA ponderosa forest
DOI 10.1016/j.foreco.2022.120088
Authors Lisa A McCauley, John Bradford, Marcos D. Robles, Robert K Shriver, Travis J. Woolley, Caitlin M. Andrews
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Forest Ecology and Management
Series Number
Index ID 70230055
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Southwest Biological Science Center

Related Content