The Role of Nutrients in Drought-Induced Mortality and Recovery

The Science

This paper synthesizes research to generate hypotheses on how nutrient availability influences the likelihood of drought-induced mortality, and the recovery of ecosystems after drought.

The Impact

This study proposes new frontiers in research on how trees die and survive during drought and how they recover post-drought.


Global forests are experiencing hotter temperatures and more frequent droughts, causing an acceleration in tree mortality. Current research on drought-induced mortality is focused on the carbon- and water-related mechanisms of death, and so far have ignored the potentially critical role of nutrients.  High nutrient availability is likely a detriment to drought survival, thus areas of nitrogen deposition should be more predisposed to death. Nutrients are released after drought ceases, and thus recovery may be a strong function of the ability of trees to acquire this transient pulse of resource availability.  This study provides a testable framework by which the role of nutrients in drought-induced mortality and recovery may be understood.

Principal Investigator(s)

Nate McDowell
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory


Funding was provided by the Next-Generation Ecosystem Experiments (NGEE)–Tropics project of the Office of Biological and Environmental Research, within the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science; the Swiss National Foundation; and the Swiss Fellowship program at WSL.


Gessler A., M. Schaub, and N.G. McDowell. “The role of nutrients in drought-induced mortality and recovery.” New Phytologist 214(2), 513–520 (2017). [DOI:10.1111/nph.14340]