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Forests 2017, 8(10), 365; doi:10.3390/f8100365

Monitoring Changes in Water Use Efficiency to Understand Drought Induced Tree Mortality

Department of Biological Sciences, Florida International University, 11200 S.W. 8th Street, Miami, FL 33199, USA
Rocky Mountain Research Station, United States Forest Service, 240 W Prospect Rd., Fort Collins, CO 80526, USA
Received: 3 August 2017 / Revised: 16 September 2017 / Accepted: 21 September 2017 / Published: 26 September 2017
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Forests are becoming increasingly vulnerable to rising tree mortality rates in response to warming and drought. In California, the most severe drought on record occurred from 2012–2016 and high tree mortality rates were observed in response to this prolonged drought. Differences in satellite-derived estimates of water-use efficiency (WUE) under normal (i.e., WUEBASELINE) and drought conditions (ΔWUE = WUE2014 − WUEBASELINE) captured variation in drought resilience, and is used here to understand patterns in tree mortality. Across California forests, a low WUEBASELINE under normal conditions was indicative of a low drought resilience and was associated with increasing tree mortality rates. Forested areas with high drought frequency in recent years (2002–2015) and lower WUEBASELINE were the most vulnerable to high post-drought tree mortality. Post drought tree mortality peaked in 2015 and tree mortality was detected in areas where bark beetles were active. Our results show that spatial and temporal changes in WUE can signal shifts in ecosystem resilience and that water-limited forests are sensitive to temperature- and precipitation-driven drought stress. Considering that forests with low resilience will be poised for dieback in the future if climates continue to feature rising temperatures without compensating increases in precipitation, it is becoming increasingly important that we understand drought vulnerability at the ecosystem level and how it changes over time with climate conditions. View Full-Text
Keywords: drought resistance; California forests; disturbance ecology; remote sensing; MODIS; ecological monitoring drought resistance; California forests; disturbance ecology; remote sensing; MODIS; ecological monitoring

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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. (CC BY 4.0).

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Malone, S.L. Monitoring Changes in Water Use Efficiency to Understand Drought Induced Tree Mortality. Forests 2017, 8, 365.

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