Distance decay and directional diffusion of ecoclimate teleconnections driven by regional-scale tree die-off

Xiao Feng, Abigail L.S. Swann, David D. Breshears, Elizabeth Baldwin, Haotian Cheng, Jonathan J. Derbridge, Chengcheng Fei, Aaron M. Lien, Laura López-Hoffman, Bruce McCarl, Danielle M. McLaughlin, José R. Soto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Climate change is triggering regional-scale alterations in vegetation including land cover change such as forest die-off. At sufficient magnitudes, land cover change from forest die-off in one region can change not only local climate but also vegetation including agriculture elsewhere via changes in larger scale climate patterns, termed an ‘ecoclimate teleconnection’. Ecoclimate teleconnections can therefore have impacts on vegetative growth in distant regions, but the degrees to which the impact decays with distance or directionally diffuses relative to the initial perturbation are general properties that have not been evaluated. We used the Community Earth system model to study this, examining the implications of tree die-off in 14 major US forested regions. For each case we evaluated the ecological impact across North America as a function of distance and direction from the location of regional tree die-off. We found that the effects on gross primary productivity (GPP) generally decayed linearly with distance, with notable exceptions. Distance from the region of tree die-off alone explained up to ∼30% of the variance in many regions. We also found that the GPP impact was not uniform across directions and that including an additional term to account for direction to regional land cover change from tree die-off was statistically significant for nearly all regions and explained up to ∼40% of the variance in many regions, comparable in magnitude to the influence of El Nino on GPP in the Western US. Our results provide novel insights into the generality of distance decay and directional diffusion of ecoclimate teleconnections, and suggest that it may be hard to identify expected impacts of tree die-off without case-specific simulations. Such patterns of distance decay, directional diffusion, and their exceptions are relevant for cross-regional policy that links forests and other agriculture (e.g. US Department of Agriculture).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number114013
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2023


  • climate change
  • crop
  • distance decay
  • forest loss
  • teleconnection
  • tree mortality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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