Plant Hydraulic Stress Explained Tree Mortality and Tree Size Explained Beetle Attack in a Mixed Conifer Forest

Xiaonan Tai, D. Scott Mackay, Brent E. Ewers, Andrew D. Parsekian, Daniel Beverly, Heather Speckman, Paul D. Brooks, William R.L. Anderegg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Drought predisposes conifer forests to bark beetle attacks and mortality. Although plant hydraulic stress mechanistically links to tree mortality, its capacity to predict trees' susceptibility to beetle attacks has not been evaluated. Further, both tree size and water supply could influence plant hydraulic stress, but their relative importance remained unknown. In this study, we modeled plant hydraulic stress of individual trees in a mixed forest of Lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta), Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii), and Subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa) in southern Wyoming, using an integrated model of plant hydraulics and hydrology, ground surveys of tree size as well as physiological and geophysical measurements. Based on the established link between plant hydraulic stress and tree mortality, we found interspecific differences in the relative importance of water availability and tree size. Pine mortality was best explained by the combination of tree size and water supply, and fir mortality was best explained by variations in water supply. We next compared the prediction of beetle attack by modeled plant hydraulic stress versus tree size and found tree size best explained beetle attack consistently for all three species. Taken together, our results suggested beetle attack was primarily influenced by beetle preference for large trees, potentially as food sources, rather than more hydraulically stressed trees. These findings highlighted the importance of integrated understanding of biotic/abiotic factors and their mechanistic pathways in order to accurately predict the sustainability of forests susceptible to drought and beetle outbreaks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3555-3568
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2019
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Forestry
  • Aquatic Science
  • Soil Science
  • Palaeontology
  • Ecology
  • Atmospheric Science


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