Drought Stress Makes Forest Ecosystems Vulnerable

Researchers have found that increasing drought conditions have made plants operate at their top safety threshold, making forest ecosystems vulnerable to escalating environmental stress.

In a recent study co-authored by George Washington University Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences Amy Zanne, it’s been found that hydraulic systems in plants are operating at their top safety threshold, which makes forest ecosystems susceptible to increasing environmental stress. Since a hydraulic system of trees is fine-tuned, predicted drought increases due to climate change may cause catastrophic failure in many tree species.

“Drought is a major force shaping our forests,” said Dr. Zanne, a faculty member within the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. “Over the last century, drought has been responsible globally for numerous large-scale forest diebacks. To make effective predictions of how forest landscapes may change in the future, we need to first understand how plants work.”

The primary challenge plants face during drought is how to keep their plumbing in operation. Drought stress creates trapped gas emboli in the water system, which reduces the ability of plants to supply water to leaves for photosynthetic gas exchange and can result in desiccation and death.

“Vulnerability to embolism is one of the main factors determining drought effects on trees,” Dr. Zanne said. “However, plants vary dramatically in their resistance to drought-induced embolism, which has made predictions of how forests might be altered under future climates more difficult.”

The surprising result that the group discovered is that while plants vary greatly in their embolism resistance, they are sitting at similar safety thresholds across all forest types. The team found these thresholds are largely independent of mean annual precipitation. The findings explain why drought-induced forest decline occurs in both arid and wet forests, which had historically not been considered at risk.

Download Center

  • Monitoring and Reporting on Air Emissions for Regulators and the Real World

    When it comes to managing compliance and regulatory issues surrounding air emissions, there are no easy jobs. With interviews from practitioners from American Electric Power, Red Cedar Gathering, Trinity Consultants, and Cority, this eBook provides practical advice to advance your air emissions monitoring and reporting programs.

  • What Every EHS Professional Should Know About ESG

    Join experts from Arcadis and Cority on April 27th to learn the most common ESG reporting frameworks and how technology can help you improve reporting efficiency, identify areas for improvement, and create defensible audit trails.

  • Green Quadrant EHS Software 2021

    Read the new report by independent analyst firm, Verdantix, to get an unbiased comparison of the 22 most prominent EHS software vendors in the industry.

  • RFP Template for Waste Management Software

    Learn the essential questions to ask when evaluating waste management software solutions with this free, ready-to-use RFP template

  • 5 Keys to Best-in-Class Chemical Management

    Running a safe chemical program is challenging and complex: from knowing what's on-site to proper handling and disposal - all while navigating regulatory changes. Learn the best ways to mitigate chemical risk, get the most value out of your data, and gain buy-in for a chemical management solution.

Featured Webinar