Multi-scale quantification of anthropogenic, fire, and drought-associated forest disturbances across the continental U.S., 2000–2014

Minzi Wang, Chonggang Xu, Daniel J. J. Johnson, Craig D. D. Allen, Martha Anderson, Guangxing Wang, Guangping Qie, Kurt C. C. Solander, Nate G. G. McDowell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Our understanding of broad-scale forest disturbances under climatic extremes remains incomplete. Drought, as a typical extreme event, is a key driver of forest mortality but there have been no reports on continental-scale quantification of its impact on forest mortality or how it compares to other natural or anthropogenic drivers. Thus, our ability to understand and predict broad-scale carbon cycling in response to changing climate and extreme events is limited. In this study, we applied an attribution approach based on different sources of data to quantify the area and potential carbon loss/transfer in continental U.S. (CONUS) from four types of disturbance: (1) anthropogenic (especially timber harvest); (2) fire; (3) drought-associated; and (4) other from 2000 to 2014. Our results showed that anthropogenic disturbances, fire, drought-associated disturbances, and other disturbances accounted for 54.3, 10.7, 12.7, and 22.3% of total canopy area loss, respectively. Anthropogenic disturbance was the most important driver contributing to 58.1% potential carbon loss/transfer in CONUS for 2000–2014. The potential carbon loss/transfer from natural disturbances (fire, drought, and other) for the same study period accounted for approximately 41.9% of the total loss/transfer from all agents, suggesting that natural disturbances also played a very important role in forest carbon turnover. Potential carbon loss/transfer associated with drought accounted for approximately 11.6% of the total loss/transfer in CONUS, which was of similar magnitude to potential carbon loss/transfer from fire (∼11.0%). The other natural disturbance accounted for 19.3% of potential carbon loss/transfer. Our results demonstrated the importance of the impacts of various disturbances on forest carbon stocks at the continental scale, and the drought-associated carbon loss/transfer data developed here could be used for evaluating the performance of predictive models of tree mortality under droughts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number693418
JournalFrontiers in Forests and Global Change
StatePublished - Nov 3 2022


  • ISWS
  • forest disturbances
  • carbon loss/transfer
  • anthropogenic disturbances
  • fire
  • drought
  • tree mortality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Forestry
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology


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