SALT LAKE CITY, July 30, 2015 – In the virtual worlds of climate modeling, forests and other vegetation are assumed to bounce back quickly from extreme drought. But that assumption is far off the mark, according to a new study of drought impacts at forest sites worldwide. Living trees took an average of two to four years to recover and resume normal growth rates after droughts ended, researchers report today in the journal Science.
“This really matters because in the future droughts are expected to increase in frequency and severity due to climate change,” says lead author William R.L. Anderegg, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Utah. “Some forests could be in a race to recover before the next drought strikes.”
Forest trees play a big role in buffering the impact of human-induced climate change by removing massive amounts of carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere and incorporating the carbon into woody tissues. The finding that drought stress sets back tree growth for years suggests that Earth’s forests are capable of storing less carbon than climate models have calculated.