Researchers from the University of Stirling have done a study that found that widespread drought is threatening forests around the world.
In an analysis published in the journal Ecology Letters, the authors suggest that forests globally are at risk from the increased severity and frequency of droughts. The results show that trees across the world show a similar response, with death increasing consistently when drought severity increases.
Dr Sarah Greenwood, a Postdoctoral Researcher in Stirling’s Faculty of Natural Sciences, explained that they have noticed that the death of trees caused by drought is consistent around the world and across diverse environments. A thirsty tree growing in a temperate forest, such as those found throughout Europe, and one in a tropical forest, will respond to drought in the same way and will ultimately suffer because of changes in rainfall patterns and rising temperatures on Earth.
The environmental and biological scientists found specific, varying features in different tree types that could alter their resistance to drought. Species with smaller, thicker leaves and denser wood tend to cope better during extended, unusually dry periods.
Professor of Ecology at Stirling and co-author of the paper, Alastair Jump, explained that by identifying specific characteristics in trees that govern how at risk they are from drought, global patterns of tree mortality can be understood better. This sheds light on how the world’s forests react to reduced rainfall and rising temperatures.
She added that mass tree mortality would hit more forests than ever before with the temperature of the planet continuing to climb. Increased tree death will push future global warming to new levels, as forests store a substantial amount of the world’s carbon.
Jump believes that the results of the study has substantial implications for fully understanding the impact of climate change on our world.