TERN: Extreme droughts, temperatures and death in forests

An ACEAS working group is moving beyond the meteorological definition of droughts to an ecological one, so we can better understand the impact of climate change on Australia’s forests

Among the many ways that climate change is affecting the world’s forests, one that particularly worries scientists around the globe is the increase in the number of trees that die during droughts. In Australia, regular droughts and associated high temperatures in forest ecosystems may lead to reductions in net primary productivity, changes in the growth of seedlings, and reductions in canopy cover. In extreme cases, enough trees may die that the ecosystem may enter a ‘state change’ where, for example, woodlands are converted to grasslands. As the frequency of drought increases, so does the rate of tree mortality – and as a result the capacity of forests to store carbon may be reduced.

Researchers are trying to understand the impacts of climate change on forest structure,ecosystem services and carbon sequestration, but to comprehend the effects of so many complex variables they need to synthesise existing knowledge so they can understand what drives changes in these processes, and their consequences.

A multi-disciplinary group, brought together through the Australian Centre for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (ACEAS), a facility of TERN, is analysing understanding of forest mortality to determine how vulnerable our forests will be in the future.

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