Thumbnail Image

Seasonal ecosystem vulnerability to climatic anomalies in the Mediterranean

Vogel, Johannes; Paton, Eva; Aich, Valentin

Mediterranean ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to climate change and the associated increase in climate anomalies. This study investigates extreme ecosystem responses evoked by climatic drivers in the Mediterranean Basin for the time span 1999–2019 with a specific focus on seasonal variations as the seasonal timing of climatic anomalies is considered essential for impact and vulnerability assessment. A bivariate vulnerability analysis is performed for each month of the year to quantify which combinations of the drivers temperature (obtained from ERA5-Land) and soil moisture (obtained from ESA CCI and ERA5-Land) lead to extreme reductions in ecosystem productivity using the fraction of absorbed photosynthetically active radiation (FAPAR; obtained from the Copernicus Global Land Service) as a proxy. The bivariate analysis clearly showed that, in many cases, it is not just one but a combination of both drivers that causes ecosystem vulnerability. The overall pattern shows that Mediterranean ecosystems are prone to three soil moisture regimes during the yearly cycle: they are vulnerable to hot and dry conditions from May to July, to cold and dry conditions from August to October, and to cold conditions from November to April, illustrating the shift from a soil-moisture-limited regime in summer to an energy-limited regime in winter. In late spring, a month with significant vulnerability to hot conditions only often precedes the next stage of vulnerability to both hot and dry conditions, suggesting that high temperatures lead to critically low soil moisture levels with a certain time lag. In the eastern Mediterranean, the period of vulnerability to hot and dry conditions within the year is much longer than in the western Mediterranean. Our results show that it is crucial to account for both spatial and temporal variability to adequately assess ecosystem vulnerability. The seasonal vulnerability approach presented in this study helps to provide detailed insights regarding the specific phenological stage of the year in which ecosystem vulnerability to a certain climatic condition occurs.
Published in: Biogeosciences, 10.5194/bg-18-5903-2021, Copernicus