A catastrophic tropical drought kills hydraulically vulnerable tree species

Jennifer S. Powers, German Vargas G., Timothy J. Brodribb, Naomi B. Schwartz, Daniel Pérez-Aviles, Chris M. Smith-Martin, Justin M. Becknell, Filippo Aureli, Roger Blanco, Erick Calderón-Morales, Julio C. Calvo-Alvarado, Ana Julieta Calvo-Obando, María Marta Chavarría, Dorian Carvajal-Vanegas, César D. Jiménez-Rodríguez, Evin Murillo Chacon, Colleen M. Schaffner, Leland K. Werden, Xiangtao Xu, David Medvigy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

131 Scopus citations


Drought-related tree mortality is now a widespread phenomenon predicted to increase in magnitude with climate change. However, the patterns of which species and trees are most vulnerable to drought, and the underlying mechanisms have remained elusive, in part due to the lack of relevant data and difficulty of predicting the location of catastrophic drought years in advance. We used long-term demographic records and extensive databases of functional traits and distribution patterns to understand the responses of 20–53 species to an extreme drought in a seasonally dry tropical forest in Costa Rica, which occurred during the 2015 El Niño Southern Oscillation event. Overall, species-specific mortality rates during the drought ranged from 0% to 34%, and varied little as a function of tree size. By contrast, hydraulic safety margins correlated well with probability of mortality among species, while morphological or leaf economics spectrum traits did not. This firmly suggests hydraulic traits as targets for future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3122-3133
Number of pages12
JournalGlobal change biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the following funding sources for making this work possible: the United States National Science Foundation CAREER grant DEB 1053237, NSF PRFB 1711366, NSF Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI) CRN3025, grant number GrantGEO-128040, the Technological Institute of Costa Rica, ARC DP170100761, Chester Zoo (United Kingdom), National Geographic Society, Consejo Nacional por la Ciencia y la Tecnolog?a (CONACyT, Mexico), and the US Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research, Terrestrial Ecosystem Science (TES) Program (award number DESC0014363).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 John Wiley & Sons Ltd


  • extreme drought
  • hydraulic traits
  • rainfall seasonality
  • tree mortality


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