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

Published by Christina Schaedel on

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.