Climate-Induced Tree Mortality: Earth System Consequences



One of the greatest uncertainties in global environmental change is predicting changes in feedbacks between the biosphere and the Earth system. Terrestrial ecosystems and, in particular, forests exert strong controls on the global carbon cycle and influence regional hydrology and climatology directly through water and surface energy budgets [Bonan, 2008; Chapin et al., 2008].

According to new research, tree mortality associated with elevated temperatures and drought has the potential to rapidly alter forest ecosystems, potentially affecting feedbacks to the Earth system [Allen et al., 2010]. Several lines of recent research demonstrate how tree mortality rates in forests may be sensitive to climate change—particularly warming and drying. This emerging consequence of global change has important effects on Earth system processes (Figure 1).