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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Changes in the Shadow: The Shifting Role of Shaded Leaves in Global Carbon and Water Cycles Under Climate Change


Globally shaded leaves contribute to more than a half of the total increase in gross primary production (GPP; 7.6 Pg C) for 1982–2016. During 1982–2016, the fraction of shaded GPP increases by 1.1% (p < 0.01) in tropical forests and decreases by 1.4% (p < 0.01) and 1.8% (p < 0.01) in evergreen needleleaf and deciduous needleleaf boreal forests, respectively, suggesting an ecological niche of certain canopy structure for ecosystems to achieve maximum GPP. Unlike transpiration from sunlit leaves that has a turning point in the trend in 2003, global transpiration from shaded leaves steadily increased at the rate of 34 km3/year (p < 0.0001) during 1982–2016. Our study therefore suggests that shaded leaves have an increasing role in buffering the adverse impact of climate change and extremes. Further studies are still needed to reduce the uncertainties in reported trends arisen from climate forcing data, leaf area index, and land cover and land change products.

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