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


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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