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New Phytol. 2015 Jul;207(1):28-33. doi: 10.1111/nph.13382. Epub 2015 Mar 27.

Drought-related tree mortality: addressing the gaps in understanding and prediction.

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Research School of Biology, The Australian National University, Canberra, 2601, ACT, Australia.
School of Geosciences, The University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, EH9 3FF, UK.
ICREA at CREAF, Barcelona, 08010, Spain.


Increased tree mortality during and after drought has become a research focus in recent years. This focus has been driven by: the realisation that drought-related tree mortality is more widespread than previously thought; the predicted increase in the frequency of climate extremes this century; and the recognition that current vegetation models do not predict drought-related tree mortality and forest dieback well despite the large potential effects of these processes on species composition and biogeochemical cycling. To date, the emphasis has been on understanding the causal mechanisms of drought-related tree mortality, and on mechanistic models of plant function and vegetation dynamics, but a consensus on those mechanisms has yet to emerge. In order to generate new hypotheses and to help advance the modelling of vegetation dynamics in the face of incomplete mechanistic understanding, we suggest that general patterns should be distilled from the diverse and as-yet inconclusive results of existing studies, and more use should be made of optimisation and probabilistic modelling approaches that have been successfully applied elsewhere in plant ecology. The outcome should inform new empirical studies of tree mortality, help improve its prediction and reduce model complexity.


drought; drought physiology; modelling vegetation dynamics; tree mortality; tropical forests

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