Ecohydrological consequences of drought- and infestation- triggered tree die-off: insights and hypotheses



Widespread, rapid, drought-, and infestation-triggered tree mortality is emerging as a phenomenon affecting forests globally and may be linked to increasing temperatures and drought frequency and severity. The ecohydrological consequences of forest die-off have been little studied and remain highly uncertain. To explore this knowledge gap, we apply the extensive literature on the ecohydrological effects of tree harvest in combination with the limited existing die-off ecohydrology research to develop new, relevant hypotheses. Tree mortality results in loss of canopy cover, which directly alters evaporation, transpiration, and canopy interception and indirectly alters other watershed hydrologic processes, including infiltration, runoff, groundwater recharge, and streamflow. Both die-off and harvest research suggest that for most forests, water yield can be expected to increase following substantial loss of tree cover by die-off. We hypothesize that where annual precipitation exceeds ∼500 mm or water yield is dominated by snowmelt, watersheds will experience significantly decreased evapotranspiration and increased flows if absolute canopy cover loss from die-off exceeds 20%. However, recent observations suggest that water yield following die-off can potentially decrease rather than increase in drier forests. To reliably predict die-off responses, more research is needed to test these hypotheses, including observations of multiple water budget components and the persistence of ecohydrological effects with the post-die-off successional dynamics of tree recruitment, understorey growth, and interactions with additional disturbances. With die-off, mitigation and restoration options are limited and costly, necessitating societal adaptation; therefore, die-off ecohydrology should be a high priority for future research. Published in 2011. This article is a US Government work and is in the public domain in the USA.