Darcy’s law predicts widespread forest mortality under climate warming

Nature Climate Change
By:  and 



Drought and heat-induced tree mortality is accelerating in many forest biomes as a consequence of a warming climate, resulting in a threat to global forests unlike any in recorded history. Forests store the majority of terrestrial carbon, thus their loss may have significant and sustained impacts on the global carbon cycle. We use a hydraulic corollary to Darcys law, a core principle of vascular plant physiology, to predict characteristics of plants that will survive and die during drought under warmer future climates. Plants that are tall with isohydric stomatal regulation, low hydraulic conductance, and high leaf area are most likely to die from future drought stress. Thus, tall trees of old-growth forests are at the greatest risk of loss, which has ominous implications for terrestrial carbon storage. This application of Darcys law indicates todays forests generally should be replaced by shorter and more xeric plants, owing to future warmer droughts and associated wildfires and pest attacks. The Darcys corollary also provides a simple, robust framework for informing forest management interventions needed to promote the survival of current forests. Given the robustness of Darcys law for predictions of vascular plant function, we conclude with high certainty that todays forests are going to be subject to continued increases in mortality rates that will result in substantial reorganization of their structure and carbon storage.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Darcy’s law predicts widespread forest mortality under climate warming
Series title Nature Climate Change
DOI 10.1038/nclimate2641
Volume 5
Year Published 2015
Language English
Publisher Nature Publishing Group
Contributing office(s) Fort Collins Science Center
Description 4 p.
First page 669
Last page 672
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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