Review

Hanging by a thread? Forests and drought

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Science  17 Apr 2020:
Vol. 368, Issue 6488, pp. 261-266
DOI: 10.1126/science.aat7631

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Abstract

Trees are the living foundations on which most terrestrial biodiversity is built. Central to the success of trees are their woody bodies, which connect their elevated photosynthetic canopies with the essential belowground activities of water and nutrient acquisition. The slow construction of these carbon-dense, woody skeletons leads to a slow generation time, leaving trees and forests highly susceptible to rapid changes in climate. Other long-lived, sessile organisms such as corals appear to be poorly equipped to survive rapid changes, which raises questions about the vulnerability of contemporary forests to future climate change. The emerging view that, similar to corals, tree species have rather inflexible damage thresholds, particularly in terms of water stress, is especially concerning. This Review examines recent progress in our understanding of how the future looks for forests growing in a hotter and drier atmosphere.

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