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Drought's lingering death may beat rains' return

In the world of climate change, dryland ecosystems could be condemned to drought’s lingering death. Woodland and plantlife could be hit by severe and sustained dry spells. When the rains come at last, recovery could be faltering and incomplete.

And very soon those species that do revive and resume growth could find themselves in unfamiliar company.

US researchers have been looking, once again, at the long-term consequences of climate change and the damage to landscapes increasingly threatened by drought.

And, they write in Nature, more frequent droughts predicted for the future may not allow ecosystems enough time to recover before the next prolonged dry spell.

Knowledge gaps

“There was a broad presumption that ecosystems and plants recovered almost immediately when the weather got wetter,” said William Anderegg, a biologist at the University of Utah. “We didn’t know what the patterns were globally, including which plants seemed to recover faster and which variables influenced that recovery time.”

Drought, for many regions, is on the way: separate teams of researchers have warned of heat and drought for the forests of the northern hemisphere, and more specifically for the beech forests of Europe, and have repeatedly warned of drought damage to the world’s greatest rainforest, the Amazon.

Such droughts have impacts that go far beyond any one forest region: researchers have suggested that what happens in one region could have long-term consequences for ecosystems far away, and most certainly severe drought in the Amazon would have knock-on effects that would be felt worldwide.

The research team considered drought from three more to find out