A forested wetland at a climate-induced tipping-point: 17-year demographic evidence of widespread tree recruitment failure

Forest Ecology and Management
By: , and 



Regeneration and survival of forested wetlands are affected by environmental variables related to the hydrologic regime. Climate change, specifically alterations to precipitation patterns, may have outsized effects on these forests. In Tennessee, USA, precipitation has increased by 15% since 1960. The goal of our research was to assess the evidence for whether this change in precipitation patterns resulted in shorter growing seasons and recruitment failure in common canopy trees for a forest wetland. In 2001 and 2018, the density of Quercus lyrata (overcup oak), Liquidambar styraciflua (sweetgum), Quercus phellos (willow oak), and Betula nigra (river birch) seedling, sapling and adult density were mapped in an area of 2.3 ha within a seasonally flooded karst depression. Overall, the percentage of the growing season experiencing inundation was 26% greater in the deep than in shallow areas between 2001 and 2018. Saplings and small adults of all four species were restricted to shallow areas, and their abundance has declined substantially. Overcup oak and sweetgum individuals that were recruited into the adult life history stage were repelled from the deep zone. Overcup oak and sweetgum adults experienced lower mortality across the 2.3-ha study area (11% and 26%, respectively) relative to willow oak (56%) and river birch (64%) over the 17-year study. Growing-season inundation showed no relation to mortality in adult sweetgum and willow oak, a positive relation to mortality among adult river birch across size classes and among small adult overcup oak, and an inverse relation to mortality among large adult overcup oak. In shallow regions, overcup oak and sweetgum adults had greater basal area increment relative to the intermediate and deep regions of the pond. Results of hydrologic modeling for the study area, based on rainfall and temperature records covering 1855–2019, show ponding durations after 1970 considerably longer than the historical baseline, across ponding-depth classes. Our results strongly suggest that climate change is a driving factor suppressing tree regeneration since 1970 in this seasonally flooded karst depression.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title A forested wetland at a climate-induced tipping-point: 17-year demographic evidence of widespread tree recruitment failure
Series title Forest Ecology and Management
DOI 10.1016/j.foreco.2022.120247
Volume 517
Year Published 2022
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Lower Mississippi-Gulf Water Science Center
Description 120247, 12 p.
Country United States
State Tennessee
Other Geospatial Arnold Engineering Development Complex, Sinking Pond
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