European Journal of Forest Research

, Volume 132, Issue 3, pp 497–510 | Cite as

Sudden forest canopy collapse corresponding with extreme drought and heat in a mediterranean-type eucalypt forest in southwestern Australia

  • George MatusickEmail author
  • Katinka X. Ruthrof
  • Niels C. Brouwers
  • Bernard Dell
  • Giles St. J. Hardy
Original Paper


Drought and heat-induced forest dieback and mortality are emerging global concerns. Although Mediterranean-type forest (MTF) ecosystems are considered to be resilient to drought and other disturbances, we observed a sudden and unprecedented forest collapse in a MTF in Western Australia corresponding with record dry and heat conditions in 2010/2011. An aerial survey and subsequent field investigation were undertaken to examine: the incidence and severity of canopy dieback and stem mortality, associations between canopy health and stand-related factors as well as tree species response. Canopy mortality was found to be concentrated in distinct patches, representing 1.5 % of the aerial sample (1,350 ha). Within these patches, 74 % of all measured stems (>1 cm DBHOB) had dying or recently killed crowns, leading to 26 % stem mortality six months following the collapse. Patches of canopy collapse were more densely stocked with the dominant species, Eucalyptus marginata, and lacked the prominent midstorey species Banksia grandis, compared to the surrounding forest. A differential response to the disturbance was observed among co-occurring tree species, which suggests contrasting strategies for coping with extreme water stress. These results suggest that MTFs, once thought to be resilient to climate change, are susceptible to sudden and severe forest collapse when key thresholds have been reached.


Climate change Die-off Forest mortality Density-dependent Eucalyptus marginata Corymbia calophylla 



The research was conducted within the Western Australian State Centre of Excellence for Climate Change Woodland and Forest Health, which is a partnership between private industry, community groups, Universities, and the Government of Western Australia. We thank Michael Pez and Geoffrey Banks, Western Australian Department of Environment, and Conservation for their assistance in collecting spatial datasets. Thanks also to David Breshears, University of Arizona and Craig Allen, United States Geological Survey for visiting research sites and for their discussions regarding the disturbance. We sincerely thank Pieter Poot, University of Western Australia and Frank Batini, Natural Resource Management Consultant, Western Australia for their comments and discussion on earlier drafts. Finally, we thank two anonymous reviewers for their comments and contribution to the final manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • George Matusick
    • 1
    Email author
  • Katinka X. Ruthrof
    • 1
  • Niels C. Brouwers
    • 2
  • Bernard Dell
    • 1
  • Giles St. J. Hardy
    • 1
  1. 1.State Centre of Excellence for Climate Change Woodland and Forest HealthSchool of Biological Sciences and Biotechnology, Murdoch UniversityMurdochAustralia
  2. 2.State Centre of Excellence for Climate Change Woodland and Forest HealthSchool of Environmental Science, Murdoch UniversityMurdochAustralia

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