Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2017MT318B

Student Fellowship Project: Leaf Water Potential as an Improved Predictor of Drought Induced Conifer Stress

Institute: Montana
Year Established: 2017 Start Date: 2017-03-01 End Date: 2018-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $2,000 Total Non-Federal Funds: $900

Principal Investigators: Caelan Simeone

Abstract: Forests cover 30% of the land’s surface, 2 billion people rely on forests for food, shelter, livelihoods, water and fuel security, 300 million people live in forests, and 13 million people worldwide are employed in the formal forest sector. Forests also play key roles in watershed hydrology, landscape evolution through erosion control, the global carbon cycle, and provide habitat for wildlife world wide. According to many studies evergreen forest cover in the Western U.S. will decline dramatically (up to 50%) throughout the next century due to climate change. While in many cases annual precipitation may not vary, increased temperatures and less available water during the summer are predicted to create increased water stress and higher rates of cavitation among many tree species. A better understanding of the mechanisms and landscape distributions of tree mortality, as well as improved prediction techniques are essential to provide managers the ability to make informed decisions about how to protect the future of our forests. Most methods of predicting plant growth and mortality assume that volumetric water content, VWC, is an adequate proxy for plant hydrologic stress. Others use an index calculated from VWC as a predictor. Using VWC ignores the complex interactions between hydrologic, atmospheric, and ecological processes on watershed hydrology, and focuses only on the supply of water that is available to plants.