Precipitation thresholds and drought-induced tree die-off: Insights from patterns of Pinus edulis mortality along an environmental stress gradient

Michael J. Clifford, Patrick D. Royer, Neil S Cobb, David D. Breshears, Paulette L. Ford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

53 Scopus citations


Summary: Recent regional tree die-off events appear to have been triggered by a combination of drought and heat - referred to as 'global-change-type drought'. To complement experiments focused on resolving mechanisms of drought-induced tree mortality, an evaluation of how patterns of tree die-off relate to highly spatially variable precipitation is needed. Here, we explore precipitation relationships with a die-off event of pinyon pine (Pinus edulis Engelm.) in southwestern North America during the 2002-2003 global-change-type drought. Pinyon die-off and its relationship with precipitation was quantified spatially along a precipitation gradient in north-central New Mexico with standard field plot measurements of die-off combined with canopy cover derived from normalized burn ratio (NBR) from Landsat imagery. Pinyon die-off patterns revealed threshold responses to precipitation (cumulative 2002-2003) and vapor pressure deficit (VPD), with little to no mortality (< 10%) above 600 mm and below warm season VPD of c. 1.7 kPa. [Correction added after online publication 17 June 2013; in the preceding sentence, the word 'below' has been inserted.] Our results refine how precipitation patterns within a region influence pinyon die-off, revealing a precipitation and VPD threshold for tree mortality and its uncertainty band where other factors probably come into play - a response type that influences stand demography and landscape heterogeneity and is of general interest, yet has not been documented.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)413-421
Number of pages9
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 2013



  • Climate change
  • Die-off
  • Drought
  • Mortality
  • Pinus edulis
  • Pinyon pine
  • Pinyon-juniper woodlands
  • Threshold

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Plant Science
  • Physiology

Cite this