Drought-influenced mortality of tree species with different predawn leaf water dynamics in a decade-long study of a central US forest
- 1Environmental Sciences Division and Climate Change Science Institute, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN, USA
- 2Department of Forestry, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211, USA
- 3Department of Geological Sciences, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78712, USA
Abstract. Using decade-long continuous observations of tree mortality and predawn leaf water potential (ψpd) at the Missouri Ozark AmeriFlux (MOFLUX) site, we studied how the mortality of important tree species varied and how such variations may be predicted. Water stress determined inter-annual variations in tree mortality with a time delay of 1 year or more, which was correlated fairly tightly with a number of quantitative predictors formulated based on ψpd and precipitation regimes. Predictors based on temperature and vapor pressure deficit anomalies worked reasonably well, particularly for moderate droughts. The exceptional drought of the year 2012 drastically increased the mortality of all species, including drought-tolerant oaks, in the subsequent year. The drought-influenced tree mortality was related to the species position along the spectrum of ψpd regulation capacity with those in either ends of the spectrum being associated with elevated risk of death. Regardless of species and drought intensity, the ψpd of all species recovered rapidly after sufficiently intense rain events in all droughts. This result, together with a lack of immediate leaf and branch desiccation, suggests an absence of catastrophic hydraulic disconnection in the xylem and that tree death was caused by significant but indirect effects. Species differences in the capacity of regulating ψpd and its temporal integral were magnified under moderate drought intensities but diminished towards wet and dry extremes. Severe droughts may overwhelm the capacity of even drought-tolerant species to maintain differential levels of water potential as the soil becomes exhausted of available water in the rooting zone, thus rendering them more susceptible to death if predisposed by other factors such as age.