Document Type


Publication Date



Extreme droughts are a major determinant of ecosystem disturbance that impacts plant communities and feeds back into climate change through changes in plant functioning. However, the complex relationships between aboveground and belowground plant hydraulic traits and their role in governing plant responses to drought are not fully understood. In this study, we use a model, the Functionally Assembled Terrestrial Ecosystem Simulator in a configuration that includes plant hydraulics (FATES-Hydro), to investigate ecosystem responses to the 2012–2015 California drought in comparison with observations at a site in the southern Sierra Nevada that experienced widespread tree mortality during this drought.

We conduct a sensitivity analysis to explore how different plant water sourcing and hydraulic strategies lead to differential responses during normal and drought conditions.

The analysis shows the following.

  1. Deep roots that sustain productivity through the dry season are needed for the model to capture observed seasonal cycles of evapotranspiration (ET) and gross primary productivity (GPP) in normal years, and deep-rooted strategies are nonetheless subject to large reductions in ET and GPP when the deep soil reservoir is depleted during extreme droughts, in agreement with observations.

  2. Risky stomatal strategies lead to greater productivity during normal years as compared to safer stomatal control, but they also lead to a high risk of xylem embolism during the 2012–2015 drought.

  3. For a given stand density, stomatal and xylem traits have a stronger impact on plant water status than on ecosystem-level fluxes.

Our study highlights the significance of resolving plant water sourcing strategies to represent drought impacts on plants and consequent feedbacks in models.


© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Publication Title