Pervasive Drought Legacy Effects in Forest Ecosystems and their Carbon Cycle Implications
Thursday, 17 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
The impacts of climate extremes on terrestrial ecosystems are poorly understood but central for predicting carbon cycle feedbacks to climate change. Coupled climate-carbon cycle models typically assume that vegetation recovery from extreme drought is immediate and complete, which conflicts with basic plant physiological understanding. We examine the recovery of tree stem growth after severe drought at 1,338 forest sites globally comprising 49,339 site-years and compare it to simulated recovery in climate-vegetation models. We find pervasive and substantial “legacy effects” of reduced growth and incomplete recovery for 1-4 years after severe drought, and that legacy effects are most prevalent in dry ecosystems, Pinaceae, and species with low hydraulic safety margins. In contrast, no or limited legacy effects are simulated in current climate-vegetation models after drought. Our results highlight hysteresis in ecosystem carbon cycling and delayed recovery from climate extremes.