Variation in woody plant mortality and dieback from severe drought among soils, plant groups, and species within a northern Arizona ecotone
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- Koepke, D.F., Kolb, T.E. & Adams, H.D. Oecologia (2010) 163: 1079. doi:10.1007/s00442-010-1671-8
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Vegetation change from drought-induced mortality can alter ecosystem community structure, biodiversity, and services. Although drought-induced mortality of woody plants has increased globally with recent warming, influences of soil type, tree and shrub groups, and species are poorly understood. Following the severe 2002 drought in northern Arizona, we surveyed woody plant mortality and canopy dieback of live trees and shrubs at the forest–woodland ecotone on soils derived from three soil parent materials (cinder, flow basalt, sedimentary) that differed in texture and rockiness. Our first of three major findings was that soil parent material had little effect on mortality of both trees and shrubs, yet canopy dieback of trees was influenced by parent material; dieback was highest on the cinder for pinyon pine (Pinus edulis) and one-seed juniper (Juniperus monosperma). Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) dieback was not sensitive to parent material. Second, shrubs had similar mortality, but greater canopy dieback, than trees. Third, pinyon and ponderosa pines had greater mortality than juniper, yet juniper had greater dieback, reflecting different hydraulic characteristics among these tree species. Our results show that impacts of severe drought on woody plants differed among tree species and tree and shrub groups, and such impacts were widespread over different soils in the southwestern U.S. Increasing frequency of severe drought with climate warming will likely cause similar mortality to trees and shrubs over major soil types at the forest–woodland ecotone in this region, but due to greater mortality of other tree species, tree cover will shift from a mixture of species to dominance by junipers and shrubs. Surviving junipers and shrubs will also likely have diminished leaf area due to canopy dieback.