Overestimated gains in water‐use efficiency by global forests Article - Mai 2022

Xiao Ying Gong, Wei Ting Ma, Yong Zhi Yu, Keyan Fang, Yusheng Yang, Guillaume Tcherkez, Mark Adams

Xiao Ying Gong, Wei Ting Ma, Yong Zhi Yu, Keyan Fang, Yusheng Yang, Guillaume Tcherkez, Mark Adams, « Overestimated gains in water‐use efficiency by global forests  », Global Change Biology, mai 2022, Early Access. ISSN 1354-1013

Abstract

Increases in terrestrial water-use efficiency (WUE) have been reported in many studies, pointing to potential changes in physiological forcing of global carbon and hydrological cycles. However, gains in WUE are of uncertain magnitude over longer (i.e. >10 years) periods of time largely owing to difficulties in accounting for structural and physiological acclimation. C-13 signatures (i.e. delta C-13) of plant organic matter have long been used to estimate WUE at temporal scales ranging from days to centuries. Mesophyll conductance is a key uncertainty in estimated WUE owing to its influence on diffusion of CO2 to sites of carboxylation. Here we apply new knowledge of mesophyll conductance to 464 delta C-13 chronologies in tree-rings of 143 species spanning global biomes. Adjusted for mesophyll conductance, gains in WUE during the 20th century (0.15 ppm year(-1)) were considerably smaller than those estimated from conventional modelling (0.26 ppm year(-1)). Across the globe, mean sensitivity of WUE to atmospheric CO2 was 0.15 ppm ppm(-1). Ratios of internal-to-atmospheric CO2 (on a mole fraction basis ; c(i)/c(a)) in leaves were mostly constant over time but differed among biomes and plant taxa-highlighting the significance of both plant structure and physiology. Together with synchronized responses in stomatal and mesophyll conductance, our results suggest that ratios of chloroplastic-to-atmospheric CO2 (c(c)/c(a)) are constrained over time. We conclude that forest WUE may have not increased as much as previously suggested and that projections of future climate forcing via CO2 fertilization may need to be adjusted accordingly.

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