Belowground Perspective on the Drought Sensitivity of Forests: Towards Improved Model Predictions and Management Prescriptions

Moving toward improved model predictions and management prescriptions.

The Science

This paper summarizes the current state of knowledge on belowground responses of forests to drought and how this knowledge may be employed to improve model predictions of forest drought sensitivity, as well as forest management to avoid drought-induced growth declines and mortality.

The Impact

This review paper provides many testable hypotheses for scientists ranging from modelers to empiricists to land managers.


This paper summarizes current knowledge of abiotic and biotic factors below ground that influence plant responses to drought. It sets forth hypotheses that are testable, and thus should be well cited. It also identifies what is known with good confidence regarding the belowground system and provides suggestions to modelers and land managers.

Principal Investigator

Nate McDowell
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Program Manager

Daniel Stover
U.S. Department of Energy, Biological and Environmental Research (SC-33)
Environmental System Science


Funding was provided by the Terrestrial Ecosystem Science program through the Next-Generation Ecosystem Experiments (NGEE)–Tropics and Spruce and Peatland Responses Under Changing Environments (SPRUCE) projects or the Office of Biological and Environmental Research, within the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, and by the National Science Foundation.


Phillips, R. P., I. Ibáñez, P. J. Hanson,and M. G. Ryan, et al. "A belowground perspective on the drought sensitivity of forests: Toward improved model predictions and management prescriptions." Forest Ecology and Management 380 309–320  (2016).