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Climate - induced forest mortality in the Tropical Pacific Islands: what do we really know?

Boehmer, Hans J. and Galvin, Stephen (2023) Climate - induced forest mortality in the Tropical Pacific Islands: what do we really know? Pacific Science, 77 (2-3). pp. 139-161. ISSN 0030-8870

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Between 1954 and the mid-1980s, about 50,000 ha of native montane rainforest on the island of Hawai'i experienced a decline in canopy trees ("'ōhi'a dieback"), leading to great concern about the future of Hawai'i's rainforests. Dieback symptoms particularly affected the dominant tree species, the endemic Metrosideros polymorpha. Early hypotheses postulated that the forest decline was caused by a virulent pathogen or a combination of biotic disease and pest agents. This was ruled out after a decade of intensive disease research in the 1970s. Instead, it turned out that dieback patterns were significantly related to the physical environment, particularly the slope, topography, relative position on the hill slope, annual rainfall, and the type of substrate. Thus, an alternative hypothesis proposed that dieback is initiated by climate anomalies that manifest through soil moisture regimes under certain conditions of forest stand demography. Ironically, scientific perception of this interdisciplinary groundbreaking research that stimulated a global perspective on forest decline vanished while the awareness of climate change and its potential impact on the world's forests started to grow, rapidly becoming a major focus of research in recent years. In this paper, we reinforce memory of the world's first complex discussion on the natural causes of forest dieback as a showcase for the complexity of modern forest mortality research. This case demonstrates the need to rigorously identify, quantify, and fully understand all drivers of tree mortality to realistically project future climate-driven and other risks to forest ecosystem functions and services. Moreover, we summarize recent findings on forest mortality and climate change in the Pacific islands and beyond.

Item Type: Journal Article
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > G Geography (General)
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GB Physical geography
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GE Environmental Sciences
Divisions: School of Agriculture, Geography, Environment, Ocean and Natural Sciences (SAGEONS)
Depositing User: Stephen Galvin
Date Deposited: 08 Feb 2024 22:51
Last Modified: 08 Feb 2024 22:51

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