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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Rainfall drives variation in rates of change in intrinsic water use efficiency of tropical forests.

  • Author(s): Adams, Mark A
  • Buckley, Thomas N
  • Turnbull, Tarryn L
  • et al.

Rates of change in intrinsic water use efficiency (W) of trees relative to those in atmospheric [CO2] (ca) have been mostly assessed via short-term studies (e.g., leaf analysis, flux analysis) and/or step increases in ca (e.g., FACE studies). Here we use compiled data for abundances of carbon isotopes in tree stems to show that on decadal scales, rates of change (dW/dca) vary with location and rainfall within the global tropics. For the period 1915-1995, and including corrections for mesophyll conductance and photorespiration, dW/dca for drier tropical forests (receiving ~ 1000 mm rainfall) were at least twice that of the wettest (receiving ~ 4000 mm). The data also empirically confirm theorized roles of tropical forests in changes in atmospheric 13C/12C ratios (the 13C Suess Effect). Further formal analysis of geographic variation in decade-to-century scale dW/dca will be needed to refine current models that predict increases in carbon uptake by forests without hydrological cost.

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