Drought-induced effects on tree species demography and distribution

Human impacts on natural ecosystems can lead to biodiversity loss and alterations to important ecosystem functions and services. Climate change is already impacting tree establishment and mortality, leading to important changes in forest structure. Such changes are expected to alter species distribution along both latitudinal and altitudinal gradients. As drought stress increases, abrupt vegetation shifts can occur with changes depending on the vulnerability to drought of the species concerned. However, we have little understanding of how tree diversity might buffer climate change impacts in forest systems. Therefore, there is an urgent need to better understand how biodiversity underpins forest functioning, and the potential effects of climate change on forest structure and species composition.

In this work funded by Plant Fellows and the University of Stirling, we are using an interdisciplinary approach to understand and predict effects of climate change on forests along large climatic gradients. We focus on understanding the role of the potential buffering effects of biodiversity and potential vegetation shifts throughout Western Europe. This work involves the use of large-scale observational data available from National Forest Inventories together with field study aimed at evaluating the relative vulnerability of conifers and angiosperms to intense drought.

Hemispheric photograph of a plot experiencing drought-induced mortality.

Photo: Paloma Ruiz Benito

Related publications

Ruiz-Benito P, Ratcliffe S, Zavala MA, Martinez-Vilalta J, Vila-Cabrera A, Lloret F, Madrigal-González J, Wirth C, Greenwood S, Kändler G, Lehtonen A, Kattge J, Dahlgren J, Jump AS (2017) Climate- and successional-related changes in functional composition of European forests are strongly driven by tree mortality. Global Change Biology, 23, 4162-4176

Jump AS, Ruiz-Benito P, Greenwood S, Allen CD, Kitzberger T, Fensham F, Martínez-Vilalta J, Lloret F (2017) Structural overshoot of tree growth with climate variability and the global spectrum of drought-induced forest dieback. Global Change Biology, 23, 3742-3757

Greenwood S, Ruiz-Benito P, Martínez-Vilalta J, Lloret F, Kitzberger T, Allen CD, Fensham R, Laughlin DC, Kattge J, Bönisch G, Kraft NJB, Jump AS (2017) Tree mortality across biomes is promoted by drought intensity, lower wood density and higher specific leaf area. Ecology Letters, 20, 539-553

Ratcliffe S, Liebergesell M, Ruiz-Benito P, Madrigal-González J, Múñoz Castañeda JM, Kändler G, Lehtonen A, Dahlgren J, Kattge J, Peñuelas J, Zavala, MA, Wirth C. (2016) Modes of functional biodiversity control on tree productivity across the European continent. Global Ecology and Biogeography. DOI: 10.1111/geb.12406

Allen, CD, Breshears DD, McDowell NG. (2015). On underestimation of global vulnerability to tree

mortality and forest die-off from hotter drought in the Anthropocene. Ecosphere 6(8):129. DOI: 10.1890/ES15-00203.1

Ruiz-Benito P, Madrigal-González J, Young S, Mercatoris P, Cavin L, Huang T-J, Chen J-C, Jump AS (2015) Climatic stress during stand development alters the sign and magnitude of age-related growth responses in a subtropical mountain pine. PLOS One DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0126581

Ruiz-Benito P, Madrigal-González J, Ratcliffe S, Coomes DA, Kändler G, Lehtonen A, Wirth C, Zavala MA (2014). Stand structure and recent climate change constrain stand basal area change in European forests: a comparison across boreal, temperate and Mediterranean biomes. Ecosystems, 17, 1439-1454

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