Understanding how plants respond to meteorological water stress is necessary for predicting photosynthesis and transpiration in a changing climate. Many studies of plant responses to water stress have focused on differences between species, because of the large species-to-species differences in stomatal closure, xylem conductance, and root traits. However, several other factors also influence how meteorology affects plant water status, such as soil hydraulics, topography, intra-specific variability in plant traits, etc. This begs the question of whether the traditional focus on species-to-species differences is warranted for understanding large-scale spatial variations. In this talk, I will present research to understand the relative importance of species cover at regional scales in controlling plant responses to water stress. To address this, I will use satellite-derived estimate of live fuel moisture content, a measure of canopy wetness that reflects the dynamics of root water uptake and transpiration. These data can be used to estimate so-called 'plant water sensitivity' - a metric of drought response - and combined with known information about species cover from 21,455 measured plots in the U.S. Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis database across the western United States. I will discuss the degree to which species cover and other traits can explain observed variability of plant water sensitivity, and implications for species-specific studies of drought response.



Alexandra 'Alex' Konings is an associate professor in the department of Earth System Science at Stanford University. Her research is focused on interactions between the global carbon and water cycles, especially as related to plant hydraulics and to the effects of small-scale trait variability on regional-scale ecosystem behavior. Her research group - together with others - has developed the use of microwave remote sensing-derived metrics of canopy water content to map plant drought response and its links to tree mortality, wildfire, fluxes, and more. She received the AGU Global Environmental Change Early Career Award in 2021 and an Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship in 2023.