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Large and projected strengthening moisture limitation on end-of-season photosynthesis

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Terrestrial photosynthesis is regulated by plant phenology and environmental conditions, both of which experienced substantial changes in recent decades. Unlike early-season photosynthesis, which is mostly driven by temperature or wet-season onset, late-season photosynthesis can be limited by several factors and the underlying mechanisms are less understood. Here, we analyze the temperature and water limitations on the ending date of photosynthesis (EOP), using data from both remote-sensing and flux tower-based measurements. We find a contrasting spatial pattern of temperature and water limitations on EOP. The threshold separating these is determined by the balance between energy availability and soil water supply. This coordinated temperature and moisture regulation can be explained by "law of minimum," i.e., as temperature limitation diminishes, higher soil water is needed to support increased vegetation activity, especially during the late growing season. Models project future warming and drying, especially during late season, both of which should further expand the water-limited regions, causing large variations and potential decreases in photosynthesis.

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