Legacies of more frequent drought in ponderosa pine across the western United States

Drew M.P. Peltier, Kiona Ogle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


Despite widespread interest in drought legacies—multiyear impacts of drought on tree growth—the key implication of reported drought legacies remains unaddressed: as impaired growth and slow recovery associated with drought legacies are pervasive across forest ecosystems, what is the impact of more frequent drought conditions? We investigated the assumption that either multiple drought years occurring during a short period (multiyear droughts), or droughts occurring during the recovery period from previous drought (compounded droughts), are detrimental to subsequent growth. There is evidence that drought responses may vary among populations of widespread species, leading us to examine regional differences in responses of the conifer Pinus ponderosa to historic drought frequency in the western United States. More frequent drought conditions incurred additional growth declines and shifts in growth–climate sensitivities in the years following drought relative to single-drought events, with ‘triple-droughts' being worse than ‘double-droughts'. Notably, prediction skill was not strongly reduced when ignoring compounded droughts, a consequence of the temporally comprehensive formulation of our stochastic antecedent model that accounts for the climatic memory of tree growth. We argue that incorporating drought-induced temporal variability in tree growth sensitivities can aid inference gained from statistical models, where more simplistic models could overestimate the severity of drought legacies. We also found regional differences in response to repeated drought, and suggest plastic post-drought sensitivities and climatic memory may represent beneficial physiological adjustments in interior regions. Within-species variability may thus mediate forest responses to increasing drought frequency under future climate change, but experimental approaches using more species are necessary to improve our understanding of the mechanisms that underlie drought legacy effects on tree growth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3803-3816
Number of pages14
JournalGlobal change biology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2019


  • NSC
  • SAM
  • disturbance
  • hydraulic failure
  • memory
  • pervasive
  • plasticity
  • repeat
  • tree-ring

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • General Environmental Science


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