Drought and extreme heat’s impact on trees

Grace Smith | October 6, 2022

Long dry periods while waiting for water are impacting trees everywhere, per the “Iowa Climate Statement 2022: The Many Benefits of Our Trees.” Drought-associated tree disturbances have been amplified by climate change. 

Trees survive by transporting water from their roots to their leaves, and drought disrupts this vascular water transport process. When moisture in the air and soil fall, air bubbles can form in the tree’s vascular system, blocking water flow to the leaves – which a tree needs to do to survive. 

In California, over 129 million trees died as a consequence of a severe drought. And, drought-induced stress on larger trees is happening nationwide. In a 2015 journal, researchers examined 40 droughts and found that tree mortality increased with tree size in 65 percent of the 40 droughts. The 2022 Iowa Climate Statement says that extreme heat stresses urban trees and rural woodlands, even if they are well-watered. 

To save trees for future generations, the climate statement suggests planting diverse tree species that can block unwanted pests and pathogens and effectively store carbon.“With their wealth of ecological and social benefits, the trees we have are valuable. We need to plant diverse species of trees to promote resilience and support and strengthen Iowa’s ongoing tree planting programs,” Heather Sander, Associate Professor in Geographical and Sustainability Sciences at the University of Iowa said. “In the face of climate change, we should both plant more trees and provide essential care for the precious trees we already have.”

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