Linking drought legacy effects across scales: From leaves to tree rings to ecosystems

Steven A. Kannenberg, Kimberly A. Novick, M. Ross Alexander, Justin T. Maxwell, David J.P. Moore, Richard P. Phillips, William R.L. Anderegg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

129 Scopus citations


Severe drought can cause lagged effects on tree physiology that negatively impact forest functioning for years. These “drought legacy effects” have been widely documented in tree-ring records and could have important implications for our understanding of broader scale forest carbon cycling. However, legacy effects in tree-ring increments may be decoupled from ecosystem fluxes due to (a) postdrought alterations in carbon allocation patterns; (b) temporal asynchrony between radial growth and carbon uptake; and (c) dendrochronological sampling biases. In order to link legacy effects from tree rings to whole forests, we leveraged a rich dataset from a Midwestern US forest that was severely impacted by a drought in 2012. At this site, we compiled tree-ring records, leaf-level gas exchange, eddy flux measurements, dendrometer band data, and satellite remote sensing estimates of greenness and leaf area before, during, and after the 2012 drought. After accounting for the relative abundance of tree species in the stand, we estimate that legacy effects led to ~10% reductions in tree-ring width increments in the year following the severe drought. Despite this stand-scale reduction in radial growth, we found that leaf-level photosynthesis, gross primary productivity (GPP), and vegetation greenness were not suppressed in the year following the 2012 drought. Neither temporal asynchrony between radial growth and carbon uptake nor sampling biases could explain our observations of legacy effects in tree rings but not in GPP. Instead, elevated leaf-level photosynthesis co-occurred with reduced leaf area in early 2013, indicating that resources may have been allocated away from radial growth in conjunction with postdrought upregulation of photosynthesis and repair of canopy damage. Collectively, our results indicate that tree-ring legacy effects were not observed in other canopy processes, and that postdrought canopy allocation could be an important mechanism that decouples tree-ring signals from GPP.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2978-2992
Number of pages15
JournalGlobal change biology
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2019


  • carbon allocation
  • dendroecology
  • drought recovery
  • eddy covariance
  • remote sensing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • General Environmental Science


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