Skip to main content

Consequences of drought severity for tropical live oak (Quercus oleoides) in Mesoamerica

Cite this dataset

Rambal, Serge; Cavender-Bares, Jeannine; Sparks, Kimberlee; Sparks, Jed (2020). Consequences of drought severity for tropical live oak (Quercus oleoides) in Mesoamerica [Dataset]. Dryad.


In two Costa Rican and three Honduran sites that vary in rainfall and soil properties, we used natural isotopes, a soil water balance model and climate-based drought indices to study shifts in water use with ontogeny from seedlings to mature tropical live oak (Quercus oleoides) trees. Water use patterns help to explain persistence of this broadly distributed species in Mesoamerica and to evaluate likely threats of on-going climate changes. At the end of dry seasons, soil d18O profiles can be described by one-phase exponential decay curves. Minimum values reflect geographic origins of the last significant rain event, and curvature is inversely related to the canopy closure, demonstrating its role in controlling topsoil evaporation. Partitioning of soil water sources for transpiration was analyzed with a mixing model. In the Costa Rican sites, in a relatively dry year, saplings and mature trees took up water from the upper soil. In a relatively wet year in the Honduran sites, we observed deeper water extraction. In all sites, soil storage dampens extreme variation in water availability. The size-dependence of water uptake with larger stems exploiting deeper layers is translated into variation in bulk leaf d13C-based WUE with the exception of mature trees. From 1932 -2015, drought severity was evaluated with the Standardized Precipitation Evapotranspiration Index (SPEI) concurrently with simulations of the soil water balance model. Drought occurrence increased, regardless of the time period averaged across 6, 12 or 24 months. All ontogenetic stages in all populations experienced frequent water limitation. We found evidence for linear trends toward aridification with increases of return periods of drought for October SPEI-24 declining from 42 to 6 yr in Costa Rica and from 21 to 7 yr in Honduras and recent occurrence of multiyear droughts from 2013 to 2016. October SPEI-12 and SPEI-24 were significantly related to the Oceanic Niño Indices demonstrating that local inter-annual variations in drought severity in Mesoamerica are modulated by large-scale climate forces. Drought severity in the near-term future depends on the extent to which the Pacific will adopt a more La Niña-like vs. a more El Niño-like state under on-going climatic changes.


The methods have been detailed both in the paper and in supporting information

Usage notes

Measurements of bulk leaf delta13C; measurements of delta18O; simulations on a daily time step of soil and tree water potentials. See README files for details.


National Science Foundation, Award: IOS 0843665