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Drought timing influences the legacy of tree growth recovery

Huang, Mengtian, Wang, Xuhui, Keenan, Trevor F., Piao, Shilong
Global change biology 2018 v.24 no.8 pp. 3546-3559
databases, drought, dry environmental conditions, dry season, terrestrial ecosystems, tree growth, trees, wet season
Whether and how the timing of extreme events affects the direction and magnitude of legacy effects on tree growth is poorly understood. In this study, we use a global database of Ring‐Width Index (RWI) from 2,500 sites to examine the impact and legacy effects (the departure of observed RWI from expected RWI) of extreme drought events during 1948–2008, with a particular focus on the influence of drought timing. We assessed the recovery of stem radial growth in the years following severe drought events with separate groupings designed to characterize the timing of the drought. We found that legacies from extreme droughts during the dry season (DS droughts) lasted longer and had larger impacts in each of the 3 years post drought than those from extreme droughts during the wet season (WS droughts). At the global scale, the average integrated legacy from DS droughts (0.18) was about nine times that from WS droughts (0.02). Site‐level comparisons also suggest stronger negative impacts or weaker positive impacts of DS droughts on tree growth than WS droughts. Our results, therefore, highlight that the timing of drought is a crucial factor determining drought impacts on tree recovery. Further increases in baseline aridity could therefore exacerbate the impact of punctuated droughts on terrestrial ecosystems.