Greater focus on water pools may improve our ability to understand and anticipate drought-induced mortality in plants

Jordi Martinez-Vilalta, William R.L. Anderegg, Gerard Sapes, Anna Sala

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debate

126 Scopus citations


Drought-induced tree mortality has major impacts on ecosystem carbon and water cycles, and is expected to increase in forests across the globe with climate change. A large body of research in the past decade has advanced our understanding of plant water and carbon relations under drought. However, despite intense research, we still lack generalizable, cross-scale indicators of mortality risk. In this Viewpoint, we propose that a more explicit consideration of water pools could improve our ability to monitor and anticipate mortality risk. Specifically, we focus on the relative water content (RWC), a classic metric in plant water relations, as a potential indicator of mortality risk that is physiologically relevant and integrates different aspects related to hydraulics, stomatal responses and carbon economy under drought. Measures of plant water content are likely to have a strong mechanistic link with mortality and to be integrative, threshold-prone and relatively easy to measure and monitor at large spatial scales, and may complement current mortality metrics based on water potential, loss of hydraulic conductivity and nonstructural carbohydrates. We discuss some of the potential advantages and limitations of these metrics to improve our capacity to monitor and predict drought-induced tree mortality.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22-32
Number of pages11
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2019


  • climate change
  • drought
  • monitoring
  • plant mortality
  • relative water content
  • remote-sensing
  • vegetation model
  • water relations


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