Predicting shifts in the functional composition of tropical forests under increased drought and CO2 from trade-offs among plant hydraulic traits

Megan K. Bartlett, Matteo Detto, Stephen W. Pacala

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Tropical forest responses are an important feedback on global change, but changes in forest composition with projected increases in CO2 and drought are highly uncertain. Here we determine shifts in the most competitive plant hydraulic strategy (the evolutionary stable strategy or ESS) from changes in CO2 and drought frequency and intensity. Hydraulic strategies were defined along a spectrum from drought avoidance to tolerance by physiology traits. Drought impacted competition more than CO2, with elevated CO2 reducing but not reversing drought-induced shifts in the ESS towards more tolerant strategies. Trait plasticity and/or adaptation intensified these shifts by increasing the competitive ability of the drought tolerant relative to the avoidant strategies. These findings predict losses of drought avoidant evergreens from tropical forests under global change, and point to the importance of changes in precipitation during the dry season and constraints on plasticity and adaptation in xylem traits to forest responses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)67-77
Number of pages11
JournalEcology letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


  • CO fertilization
  • drought avoidance
  • drought tolerance
  • functional composition
  • global change
  • plant competition
  • plant hydraulics
  • stomatal optimization
  • tropical forest


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