3 years ago

What mediates tree mortality during drought in the southern Sierra Nevada?

Nicholas R. Vaughn, Koren R. Nydick, Nathan L. Stephenson, Philip G. Brodrick, Adrian J. Das, Gregory P. Asner, Tarin Paz-Kagan
Severe drought has the potential to cause selective mortality within a forest, thereby inducing shifts in forest species composition. The southern Sierra Nevada foothills and mountains of California have experienced extensive forest dieback due to drought stress and insect outbreak. We used high-fidelity imaging spectroscopy (HiFIS) and light detection and ranging (LiDAR) from the Carnegie Airborne Observatory (CAO) to estimate the effect of forest dieback on species composition in response to drought stress in Sequoia National Park. Our aims were: (1) to quantify site-specific conditions that mediate tree mortality along an elevation gradient in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains; (2) to assess where mortality events have a greater probability of occurring; and (3) to estimate which tree species have a greater likelihood of mortality along the elevation gradient. A series of statistical models were generated to classify species composition and identify tree mortality, and the influences of different environmental factors were spatially quantified and analyzed to assess where mortality events have a greater likelihood of occurring. A higher probability of mortality was observed in the lower portion of the elevation gradient, on southwest and west-facing slopes, in areas with shallow soils, on shallower slopes, and at greater distances from water. All of these factors are related to site water balance throughout the landscape. Our results also suggest that mortality is species-specific along the elevation gradient, mainly affecting Pinus ponderosa and Pinus lambertiana at lower elevations. Selective mortality within the forest may drive long-term shifts in community composition along the elevation gradient. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Publisher URL: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/resolve/doi

DOI: 10.1002/eap.1620

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