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Precipitation and soil water thresholds associated with drought-induced mortality of farmland shelter forests in a semi-arid area

Sun, Libo, Chang, Xiaomin, Yu, Xinxiao, Jia, Guodong, Chen, Lihua, Liu, Ziqiang, Zhu, Xuhui
Agriculture, ecosystems & environment 2019 v.284 pp. 106595
Populus simonii, agricultural land, agricultural soils, environmental factors, forests, landscapes, mortality, semiarid zones, soil erosion, soil water, soil water content, stand density, stand structure, temperature, wind speed, China
Shelter forests in the agricultural field are critical ecological barriers against harsh environmental conditions and agricultural soil erosion in northern China; however, shelter forests have been extensively degraded in the past decades. It is unknown how patterns of mortality of shelter forests relate to highly variable spatial precipitation and soil water content (SWC). Here, we explore the relationships of precipitation and SWC with the mortality of Populus simonii Carr (poplar) shelter forests in the semi-arid Bashang Plateau, northern China. Mortality of poplar shelter forests and its relationship with precipitation and SWC are spatially quantified in an area with an uneven distribution of precipitation by combining standard field plot measurements, precipitation, and SWC spatial distribution grid data. The mortality patterns of poplar shelter forests revealed threshold responses to precipitation and SWC, with lower mortality (<32%) above 230 mm (precipitation) and an SWC > 16.56%. Results indicate that a threshold response is evident when precipitation is 60% of the average precipitation. In addition, our results show that wind speed, low temperature, and stand density also had significant effects on the mortality of poplar shelter forests. Our results show how precipitation and SWC patterns within a region influence the mortality of poplar shelter forests. Moreover, this study reveals other factors influencing stand structure and landscape heterogeneity, which have been largely overlooked in previous studies.