Tropical tree mortality has increased with rising atmospheric water stress

Bauman, David, Fortunel, Claire, Delhaye, Guillaume, Malhi, Yadvinder, Cernusak, Lucas A., Bentley, Lisa Patrick, Rifai, Sami W., Aguirre-Gutierrez, Jesus, Menor, Imma Oliveras, Phillips, Oliver L., McNellis, Brandon E., Bradford, Matt, Laurance, Susan G.W., Hutchinson, Michael F., Dempsey, Raymond, Santos-Andrade, Paul E., Ninantay-Rivera, Hugo R., Chambi Paucar, Jimmy R., and McMahon, Sean M. (2022) Tropical tree mortality has increased with rising atmospheric water stress. Nature, 608. pp. 528-533.

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Evidence exists that tree mortality is accelerating in some regions of the tropics(1,2), with profound consequences for the future of the tropical carbon sink and the global anthropogenic carbon budget left to limit peak global warming below 2 degrees C. However, the mechanisms that may be driving such mortality changes and whether particular species are especially vulnerable remain unclear(3-8). Here we analyse a 49-year record of tree dynamics from 24 old-growth forest plots encompassing a broad climatic gradient across the Australian moist tropics and find that annual tree mortality risk has, on average, doubled across all plots and species over the last 35 years, indicating a potential halving in life expectancy and carbon residence time. Associated losses in biomass were not offset by gains from growth and recruitment. Plots in less moist local climates presented higher average mortality risk, but local mean climate did not predict the pace of temporal increase in mortality risk. Species varied in the trajectories of their mortality risk, with the highest average risk found nearer to the upper end of the atmospheric vapour pressure deficit niches of species. A long-term increase in vapour pressure deficit was evident across the region, suggesting that thresholds involving atmospheric water stress, driven by global warming, may be a primary cause of increasing tree mortality in moist tropical forests.

Item ID: 74352
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1476-4687
Copyright Information: © The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited 2022
Date Deposited: 01 Jun 2022 08:16
FoR Codes: 31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3108 Plant biology > 310806 Plant physiology @ 100%
SEO Codes: 28 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 2801 Expanding knowledge > 280102 Expanding knowledge in the biological sciences @ 100%
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