Leaf to landscape responses of giant sequoia to hotter drought: An introduction and synthesis for the special section

Forest Ecology and Management

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Hotter droughts are becoming more common as climate change progresses, and they may already have caused instances of forest dieback on all forested continents. Learning from hotter droughts, including where on the landscape forests are more or less vulnerable to these events, is critical to help resource managers proactively prepare for the future. As part of our Leaf to Landscape Project, we measured the response of giant sequoia, the world’s largest tree species, to the extreme 2012–2016 hotter drought in California. The project integrated leaf-level physiology measurements, crown-level foliage dieback surveys, and remotely sensed canopy water content (CWC) to shed light on mechanisms and spatial patterns in drought response. Here we summarize initial findings, present a conceptual model of drought response, and discuss management implications; details are presented in the other four articles of the special section on Giant Sequoias and Drought. Giant sequoias exhibited both leaf- and canopy-level responses that were effective in protecting whole-tree hydraulic integrity for the vast majority of individual sequoias. Very few giant sequoias died during the drought compared to other mixed conifer tree species; however, the magnitude of sequoia drought response varied across the landscape. This variability was partially explained by local site characteristics, including variables related to site water balance. We found that low CWC is an indicator of recent foliage dieback, which occurs when stress levels are high enough that leaf-level adjustments alone are insufficient for giant sequoias to maintain hydraulic integrity. CWC or change in CWC may be useful indicators of drought stress that reveal patterns of vulnerability to future hotter droughts. Future work will measure recovery from the drought and strengthen our ability to interpret CWC maps. Our ultimate goal is to produce giant sequoia vulnerability maps to help target management actions, such as reducing other stressors, increasing resistance to hotter drought through prescribed fire or mechanical thinning, and planting sequoias in projected future suitable habitat, which may occur outside current grove distributions. We suggest that managers compare different types of vulnerability assessments and combine vulnerability maps with other sources of information to inform decisions.

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Journal Article
Leaf to landscape responses of giant sequoia to hotter drought: An introduction and synthesis for the special section
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Forest Ecology and Management
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Contributing office(s):
Western Ecological Research Center
8 p.
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United States