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Tree Death Affects Water Cycle

The widespread and rapid death of trees from droughts and insect infestation affects forests around the world. These losses may also promote increasing temperatures as well as drought frequency and severity. However, little research exists on the consequences of forest die-off, especially as it relates to water cycle and ecology.

To fill this gap, researchers at the University of Arizona performed a thorough review of case studies around the world and developed a new hypothesis. They suggest that in response to reduced forest coverage, stream flow increases in wet environments but decreases in drier regions.

These new findings highlight priorities for future research in quantitatively predicting hydrologic responses to changes in forest coverage. They may also help to guide mitigation and restoration options in forest and water resource management.

The study analyzed the factors directly linked to changes in forest coverage, including water loss from tree transpiration (the transfer of water to the atmosphere), water evaporation from soils, and water interception (leaves and branches prevent precipitation from reaching the soil). With a reduction in forest coverage, transpiration decreases, and evaporation and water interception increases. Combined, these effects often result in increased runoff to streams.

Image

  • aerial view of forest with trees blighted by sudden oak death
Aerial view of forest blighted with sudden oak death.
David Rizzo

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