Ecohydrology focuses on the interactions of water availability, ecosystem productivity, and biogeochemical cycles via ecological-hydrological connections. These connections can be particularly pronounced and socially relevant when there are large-scale rapid changes in vegetation. One such key change, vegetation mortality, can be triggered by drought and is projected to become more frequent and/or extensive in the future under changing climate. Recent research on drought-induced vegetation die-off has focused primarily on direct drought effects, such as soil moisture deficit, and, to a much lesser degree, the potential for warmer temperatures to exacerbate stress and accelerate mortality. However, temperature is tightly interrelated with atmospheric demand (vapor pressure deficit, VPD) but the latter has rarely been considered explicitly relative to die-off events. Here we highlight the importance of VPD in addition to soil moisture deficit and warmer temperature as an important driver of future die-off. Recent examples highlighting the importance of VPD include mortality patterns corresponding to VPD drivers, a strong dependence of forest growth on VPD, patterns of observed mortality along an environmental gradient, an experimentally-determined climate envelope for mortality, and a suite of modeling simulations segregating the drought effects of VPD from those of temperature. The vast bulk of evidence suggests that atmospheric demand needs to be considered in addition to temperature and soil moisture deficit in predicting risk of future vegetation die-off and associated ecohydrological transformations.
Breshears D.D., Adams H.D., Eamus D., McDowell N.G., Law D.J., Will R.E., Williams P., Zou C. (2013): Large-scale drought-induced vegetation die-off: expanding the ecohydrological emphasis more explicitly on atmospheric demand (Invited). Abstract H11N-03 presented at 2013 Fall Meeting, AGU, San Francisco, CA, 9-13 Dec. .