The Increasing Role of Drought in Ecological Transformation

Drought, despite being an episodic phenomenon, is capable of triggering persistent changes to ecosystems, with important consequences for both biodiversity and human communities. These transformational ecological droughts (TEDs) are increasing globally as a function of changing drought conditions, compounding stressors (including competing water use with humans), land management legacies, and novel climate contexts. Making decisions about how to adapt to these transformations is impaired by a limited recognition of the widespread potential for TEDs, a lack of understanding about the mechanisms by which transformation may occur, and uncertainty about the potential ecological trajectories such transformations will take. In this presentation, I will share the results of an interdisciplinary science synthesis that focused on how the risk of transformational drought is changing in the 21st century. I will provide a broad overview of the phenomenon of TED, including the diverse pathways by which it leads to transformation, highlighting mechanisms and case studies relevant to the North Central region.