Mechanisms of a coniferous woodland persistence under drought and heat

Nate G. McDowell, Charlotte Grossiord, Henry D. Adams, Sara Pinzón-Navarro, D. Scott Mackay, David D. Breshears, Craig D. Allen, Isaac Borrego, L. Turin Dickman, Adam Collins, Monica Gaylord, Natalie McBranch, William T. Pockman, Alberto Vilagrosa, Brian Aukema, Devin Goodsman, Chonggang Xu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


Predictions of warmer droughts causing increasing forest mortality are becoming abundant, yet few studies have investigated the mechanisms of forest persistence. To examine the resistance of forests to warmer droughts, we used a five-year precipitation reduction (∼45% removal), heat (+4 °C above ambient) and combined drought and heat experiment in an isolated stand of mature Pinus edulis-Juniperus monosperma. Despite severe experimental drought and heating, no trees died, and we observed only minor evidence of hydraulic failure or carbon starvation. Two mechanisms promoting survival were supported. First, access to bedrock water, or 'hydraulic refugia' aided trees in their resistance to the experimental conditions. Second, the isolation of this stand amongst a landscape of dead trees precluded ingress by Ips confusus, frequently the ultimate biotic mortality agent of piñon. These combined abiotic and biotic landscape-scale processes can moderate the impacts of future droughts on tree mortality by enabling tree avoidance of hydraulic failure, carbon starvation, and exposure to attacking abiotic agents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number045014
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 16 2019


  • die-off
  • drought
  • precipitation
  • refugia
  • warming

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • General Environmental Science
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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