September 21, 2022
Journal Article

Processes and mechanisms of coastal woody-plant mortality


Observations of woody plant mortality in coastal ecosystems are globally widespread, but the overarching processes and underlying mechanisms are poorly understood. This knowledge deficiency, combined with rapidly changing water levels, storm surges, atmospheric CO2, and vapor pressure deficit, creates large predictive uncertainty regarding how coastal ecosystems will respond to global change. Here we synthesize the literature on the mechanisms that underlie coastal woody-plant mortality, with the goal of producing a testable hypothesis framework. The key emergent mechanisms underlying mortality include hypoxic, osmotic, and ionic-driven reductions in whole-plant hydraulic conductance and photosynthesis that ultimately drive the coupled processes of hydraulic failure and carbon starvation. The relative importance of these processes in driving mortality, their order of progression, and their degree of coupling depends on the characteristics of the anomalous water exposure, on topographic effects, and on taxa-specific variation in traits and trait acclimation. Greater inundation exposure could accelerate mortality globally; however, the interaction of changing inundation exposure with elevated CO2, drought, and rising vapor pressure deficit could influence mortality likelihood. Models of coastal forests that incorporate the frequency and duration of inundation, the role of climatic drivers, and the processes of hydraulic failure and carbon starvation can yield improved estimates of inundation-induced woody-plant mortality.

Published: September 21, 2022


McDowell N.G., M. Ball, B. Bond-Lamberty, M. Kirwan, K.W. Krauss, P. Megonigal, and M. Mencuccini, et al. 2022. Processes and mechanisms of coastal woody-plant mortality. Global Change Biology 28, no. 20:5881-5900. PNNL-SA-174071. doi:10.1111/gcb.16297