Continental-scale consequences of tree die-offs in North America: Identifying where forest loss matters most

Abigail L.S. Swann, Marysa M. Laguë, Elizabeth S. Garcia, Jason P. Field, David D. Breshears, David J.P. Moore, Scott R. Saleska, Scott C. Stark, Juan Camilo Villegas, Darin J. Law, David M. Minor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Regional-scale tree die-off events driven by drought and warming and associated pests and pathogens have occurred recently on all forested continents and are projected to increase in frequency and extent with future warming. Within areas where tree mortality has occurred, ecological, hydrological and meteorological consequences are increasingly being documented. However, the potential for tree die-off to impact vegetation processes and related carbon dynamics in areas remote to where die-off occurs has rarely been systematically evaluated, particularly for multiple distinct regions within a given continent. Such remote impacts can occur when climate effects of local vegetation change are propagated by atmospheric circulation - the phenomena of 'ecoclimate teleconnections'. We simulated tree die-off events in the 13 most densely forested US regions (selected from the 20 US National Ecological Observatory Network [NEON] domains) and found that tree die-off even for smaller regions has potential to affect climate and hence Gross Primary Productivity (GPP) in disparate regions (NEON domains), either positively or negatively. Some regions exhibited strong teleconnections to several others, and some regions were relatively sensitive to tree loss regardless of what other region the tree loss occurred in. For the US as a whole, loss of trees in the Pacific Southwest - an area undergoing rapid tree die-off - had the largest negative impact on remote US GPP whereas loss of trees in the Mid-Atlantic had the largest positive impact. This research lays a foundation for hypotheses that identify how the effects of tree die-off (or other types of tree loss such as deforestation) can ricochet across regions by revealing hot-spots of forcing and response. Such modes of connectivity have direct applicability for improving models of climate change impacts and for developing more informed and coordinated carbon accounting across regions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number055014
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2018


  • ecoclimate teleconnections
  • forest die-off
  • macrosystems ecology
  • tree mortality
  • vegetation change

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • General Environmental Science
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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