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Vegetation refers to plant life, including agricultural and developed vegetation, desert and semi-desert, forest, shrubs, herbs, and natural land cover. Drought can result in reduced growth rates, increased stress on vegetation, and alterations or transformations to the plant community and/or the entire ecosystem.

Vegetation and Drought

Tall, green trees with a mountain in the background

Water is necessary for every aspect of plant development, including gemination, cell division, and respiration. The stress of drought may induce complex changes in biochemical, physiological, and morphological aspects of plants, limiting vegetative health, growth, regeneration of the plant population, the vegetative community in a region, and/or the entire ecosystem. The exact nature of impacts to vegetation depends on the drought—its severity, spatial extent, seasonal timing, and persistence, and the capacity of the vegetation to absorb and adapt to disturbances, and vegetation management actions.

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During periods of drought, plants increase their demand for water through increased evapotranspiration and longer growing seasons.

U.S. Vegetation and Drought

Unfavorable Conditions
Favorable Conditions
Vegetation Conditions

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Data & Maps | Soil Moisture

Drought can affect soil chemical, physical, and biological activities that are essential for plant and soil health. Impacts may include lack of nutrient uptake by vegetation, increased soil temperatures, altered microbial activity, changes in organic matter decomposition, and increased release of CO2.

Data & Maps | Agriculture

In agricultural ecosystems, drought may affect the growth rate and development of crop production. Without irrigation, drought-induced crop losses may be extensive, resulting in significant economic losses.

Data & Maps | Fire

Drought stress on vegetation can include damage to forests and soils, which in turn may increase wildfire frequency, severity, and spatial extent. View datasets and maps on current and predicted outlooks for fire risk, potential, and occurrence.

Research & Learn | Ecological Drought

Ecological drought refers to extreme drought impacts that exceed the capacity of both human and natural systems to adapt. Thus, ecological drought could drive irreversible changes in vegetation ecosystems—for example, from forest to shrubs—thereby changing the ecosystem benefits and services once provided by forests.