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Science of The Total Environment
Vol. 566-567, 2016, Pages: 463–467

More than Drought: Precipitation Variance, Excessive Wetness, Pathogens and the Future of the Western Edge of the Eastern Deciduous Forest

Jason A. Hubbart, Richard Guyette, Rose-Marie Muzika

Davis College, Schools of Agriculture and Food, and Natural Resources, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV, USA.


For many regions of the Earth, anthropogenic climate change is expected to result in increasingly divergent climate extremes. However, little is known about how increasing climate variance may affect ecosystem productivity. Forest ecosystems may be particularly susceptible to this problem considering the complex organizational structure of specialized species niche adaptations. Forest decline is often attributable to multiple stressors including prolonged heat, wildfire and insect outbreaks. These disturbances, often categorized as megadisturbances, can push temperate forests beyond sustainability thresholds. Absent from much of the contemporary forest health literature, however, is the discussion of excessive precipitation that may affect other disturbances synergistically or that might represent a principal stressor. Here, specific points of evidence are provided including historic climatology, variance predictions from global change modeling, Midwestern paleo climate data, local climate influences on net ecosystem exchange and productivity, and pathogen influences on oak mortality. Data sources reveal potential trends, deserving further investigation, indicating that the western edge of the Eastern Deciduous forest may be impacted by ongoing increased precipitation, precipitation variance and excessive wetness. Data presented, in conjunction with recent regional forest health concerns, suggest that climate variance including drought and excessive wetness should be equally considered for forest ecosystem resilience against increasingly dynamic climate. This communication serves as an alert to the need for studies on potential impacts of increasing climate variance and excessive wetness in forest ecosystem health and productivity in the Midwest US and similar forest ecosystems globally.

Graphical abstract

Keywords: Climate variance; Precipitation variance; Forest ecosystems; Forest pathogens; Drought; Excessive wetness.

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