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Revaluating forest drought experiments according to future precipitation patterns, ecosystem carbon and decomposition rate responses: A meta-analysis

Abstract

Moisture availability is a strong determinant of decomposition rates in forests worldwide. Climate models suggest that many terrestrial ecosystems are at risk from future droughts, suggesting moisture limiting conditions will develop across a range of forests worldwide. The impacts of increasing drought conditions on forest carbon (C) fluxes due to shifts in organic matter decay rates may be poorly characterised due to limited experimental research. To appraise this question, we conducted a meta-analysis of forest drought experiment studies worldwide, examining spatial limits, knowledge gaps and potential biases. To identify limits to experimental knowledge, we projected the global distribution of forest drought experiments against spatially modelled estimates of (i) future precipitation change, (ii) ecosystem total above-ground C and (iii) soil C storage. Our assessment, involving 115 individual experimental study locations, found a mismatch between the distribution of forest drought experiments and regions with higher levels of future drought risk and C storage, such as Central America, Amazonia, the Atlantic Forest of Brazil, equatorial Africa and Indonesia. Decomposition rate responses in litter and soil were also relatively under-studied, with only 30 experiments specifically examining the potential experimental impacts of drought on C fluxes from soil or litter. We propose new approaches for engaging experimentally with forest drought research, utilising standardised protocols to appraise the impacts of drought on the C cycle, while targeting the most vulnerable and relevant forests.

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Acknowledgements

Milla Baker of Scion for assistance with literature searches and data extraction. HSBC Bank Sustainability Leadership Programme.

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Jones, A.G., Clymans, W., Palmer, D.J. et al. Revaluating forest drought experiments according to future precipitation patterns, ecosystem carbon and decomposition rate responses: A meta-analysis. Ambio 51, 1227–1238 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13280-021-01645-4

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s13280-021-01645-4

Keywords

  • Carbon
  • Decomposition
  • Drought
  • Drought-experiments
  • Drought forests
  • Meta-analysis