Accumulating evidence highlights increased mortality risks for trees during severe drought, particularly under warmer temperatures and increasing vapour pressure deficit (VPD). Resulting forest die-off events have severe consequences for ecosystem services, biophysical and biogeochemical land-atmosphere processes. Despite advances in monitoring, modelling and experimental studies of the causes and consequences of tree death from individual tree to ecosystem and global scale, a general mechanistic understanding and realistic predictions of drought mortality under future climate conditions are still lacking. We update a global tree mortality map and present a roadmap to a more holistic understanding of forest mortality across scales. We highlight priority research frontiers that promote: (1) new avenues for research on key tree ecophysiological responses to drought; (2) scaling from the tree/plot level to the ecosystem and region; (3) improvements of mortality risk predictions based on both empirical and mechanistic insights; and (4) a global monitoring network of forest mortality. In light of recent and anticipated large forest die-off events such a research agenda is timely and needed to achieve scientific understanding for realistic predictions of drought-induced tree mortality. The implementation of a sustainable network will require support by stakeholders and political authorities at the international level.
Keywords: carbon-water cycling; dynamic vegetation models; insects and pathogens; monitoring network; tree death.
© 2018 The Authors. New Phytologist © 2018 New Phytologist Trust.