Mitigating drought mortality by incorporating topography into variable forest thinning strategies

Anooja Thomas, Thomas Kolb, Joel A. Biederman, Martin D. Venturas, Qin Ma, Di Yang, Sabina Dore, Xiaonan Tai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Drought-induced productivity reductions and tree mortality have been increasing in recent decades in forests around the globe. Developing adaptation strategies hinges on an adequate understanding of the mechanisms governing the drought vulnerability of forest stands. Prescribed reduction in stand density has been used as a management tool to reduce water stress and wildfire risk, but the processes that modulate fine-scale variations in plant water supply and water demand are largely missing in ecosystem models. We used an ecohydrological model that couples plant hydraulics with groundwater hydrology to examine how within-stand variations in tree spatial arrangements and topography might mitigate forest vulnerability to drought at individual-tree and stand scales. Our results demonstrated thinning generally ameliorated plant hydraulic stress and improved carbon and water fluxes of the remaining trees, although the effectiveness varied by climate and topography. Variable thinning that adjusted thinning intensity based on topography-mediated water availability achieved higher stand productivity and lower mortality risk, compared to evenly-spaced thinning at comparable intensities. The results from numerical experiments provided mechanistic evidence that topography mediates the effectiveness of thinning and highlighted the need for an explicit consideration of within-stand heterogeneity in trees and abiotic environments when designing forest thinning to mitigate drought impacts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number034035
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2024


  • drought mitigation
  • ecohydrological modeling
  • mortality risk
  • thinning treatments
  • topography
  • tree neighborhood

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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