Species climatic niche explains drought-induced die-off in a Mediterranean woody community

Gerard Sapes, Josep M. Serra-Diaz, Francisco Lloret

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


© 2017 Sapes et al. During the last decades, plant die-off has been reported worldwide as a result of increased frequency and intensity of extreme drought events. From a niche perspective, a species performance should decrease as the climatic conditions defining a drought event differ from those characterizing the species climatic niche (the average conditions experienced by the species). Species distribution models (SDMs) can potentially be used to test the link between species performance and their climatic niche by means of climatic suitability indexes. We studied the remaining green canopy of 18 woody species co-occurring in a Mediterranean shrubland from the central Iberian Peninsula that experienced a severe die-off following an extreme drought event.We found that the suitability of the climatic conditions estimated by SDMs strongly declined for all species during the extreme drought event. Species die-off was significantly explained by the decrease in climatic suitability during the event, estimated as the ratio between the historic and the extreme event climatic suitability. Species with high occupancy levels across the landscape exhibited higher die-off likely because (1) these species have short life-span and mortality would be compensated by later high recruitment or (2) populations of rare species may have experienced local adaptation to drier conditions. Our results indicate that extreme drought events can have a negative effect, even in shrubland communities living in arid environments. Also, we develop a new approach that connects population-level responses to species climatic niches through SDMs, and it can be applied to predict community responses to strong climatic variability, such as drought events.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere01833
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2017


  • Climatic niche
  • Correlative niche models
  • Defoliation
  • Die-off
  • Drought responses
  • Extreme drought event
  • Maxent
  • Mediterranean ecosystems
  • Niche-based models
  • Shrubland
  • Species distribution models


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