An integrative ecological drought framework to span plant stress to ecosystem transformation

Ecosystems
By: , and 

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Abstract

Droughts have increased globally in the twenty-first century and are expected to become more extreme and widespread in the future. Assessments of how drought affects plants and ecosystems lack consistency in scope and methodology, confounding efforts to mechanistically interpret structural and functional impacts and predict future transformations under climate change. To promote integration among studies, we identify water deficit conditions that are ecologically meaningful, clarify the stages in which ecological drought progresses, and consider approaches to synthesize drought effects across multiple species and ecosystems. This improved ecological drought framework reveals advantages of using different ecological drought metrics and strengthens approaches to distinguish ecosystem stress from crossing an irreversible threshold. We employ several well-studied examples from water-limited ecosystems, which contain plants that are often at their physiological limits and highly responsive to climate variability. We suggest that emerging research on early warning signs, drought recovery, and the effects of land management interventions be incorporated into the ecological drought framework. An integrative approach to understand ecological drought can accelerate scientific advancement and create opportunity to adapt and prepare for crossing irreversible ecosystem thresholds.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title An integrative ecological drought framework to span plant stress to ecosystem transformation
Series title Ecosystems
DOI 10.1007/s10021-020-00555-y
Edition Online First
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher Springer
Contributing office(s) Southwest Biological Science Center
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