Predicting Chronic Climate-Driven Disturbances and Their Mitigation

Nate G. McDowell, Sean T. Michaletz, Katrina E. Bennett, Kurt C. Solander, Chonggang Xu, Reed M. Maxwell, Richard S. Middleton

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

73 Scopus citations


Society increasingly demands the stable provision of ecosystem resources to support our population. Resource risks from climate-driven disturbances, including drought, heat, insect outbreaks, and wildfire, are growing as a chronic state of disequilibrium results from increasing temperatures and a greater frequency of extreme events. This confluence of increased demand and risk may soon reach critical thresholds. We explain here why extreme chronic disequilibrium of ecosystem function is likely to increase dramatically across the globe, creating no-analog conditions that challenge adaptation. We also present novel mechanistic theory that combines models for disturbance mortality and metabolic scaling to link size-dependent plant mortality to changes in ecosystem stocks and fluxes. Efforts must anticipate and model chronic ecosystem disequilibrium to properly prepare for resilience planning. Terrestrial disturbances, such as wildfire, insect outbreaks, and drought-induced forest mortality, are increasing due to climate warming. Subsequent consequences for hydrological resources are simultaneously expanding. The downstream impacts of the increasing frequency of disturbances are manifest as financial burden, loss of resource capacity, and impacts on human well-being. These threats of resource impacts due to chronic increases in disturbance frequency are now considered among the highest impact and highest likelihood of all threats to society. Models of terrestrial disturbances and of hydrological resource responses to disturbances are rapidly improving, providing an opportunity for mitigation and adaptation planning. Given current climate forecasts, it is likely that disturbance-induced threats to societally required resources will increase.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)15-27
Number of pages13
JournalTrends in Ecology and Evolution
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2018
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


  • disequilibrium
  • ecosystem theory
  • hydrology


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