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Global patterns of extreme drought-induced loss in land primary production: Identifying ecological extremes from rain-use efficiency

Global patterns of extreme drought-induced loss in land primary production: Identifying ecological extremes from rain-use efficiency

Quantifying the ecological patterns of loss of ecosystem function in extreme drought is important to understand the carbon exchange between the land and atmosphere. Rain-use efficiency [RUE; gross primary production (GPP)/precipitation] acts as a typical indicator of ecosystem function. In this study, a novel method based on maximum rain-use efficiency (RUEmax) was developed to detect losses of ecosystem function globally. Three global GPP datasets from the MODIS remote sensing data (MOD17), ground upscaling FLUXNET observations (MPI-BGC), and process-based model simulations (BESS), and a global gridded precipitation product (CRU) were used to develop annual global RUE datasets for 2001-2011. Large, well-known extreme drought events were detected, e.g. 2003 drought in Europe, 2002 and 2011 drought in the U.S., and 2010 drought in Russia. Our results show that extreme drought-induced loss of ecosystem function could impact 0.9% ± 0.1% of earth's vegetated land per year and was mainly distributed in semi-arid regions. The reduced carbon uptake caused by functional loss (0.14 ± 0.03 PgC/yr) could explain >70% of the interannual variation in GPP in drought-affected areas (p ≤ 0.001). Our results highlight the impact of ecosystem function loss in semi-arid regions with increasing precipitation variability and dry land expansion expected in the future. Copyright © 2018 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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