Forests can experience large scale die-off or die more slowly in a process called “background mortality”. The Sierra Nevada is already experiencing accelerated background mortality. Scientists are studying whether drought causes trees to die sooner than normal. It’s a huge concern as California deals with its third straight year of drought.
“From what I can tell, drought is a major player in that,” says Phil van Mantgem, a research ecologist with USGS.
“We’re not 100 percent on that, but there is a lot of circumstantial evidence pointing that direction, " he says. "You can convict on circumstantial evidence, and its getting strong enough where I think management needs to start taking a look at how we can combat these drought effects.”
Drought is a focus of conversation at the national Ecological Society of America conference being held in Sacramento this week.