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Spatial variability and temporal trends in water-use efficiency of European forests

Journal article
Authors M Saurer
R Sphani
DC Frank
F Joos
M Leuenberger
NJ Loader
D McCarroll
M Gagen
B Poulter
RTW Siegwolf
L Andreau-Hayles
T Boettger
ID Dorado Linan
IJ Fairchild
M Friedrich
E Guiterrez
M Haupt
E Hilasvuori
I Heinrich
G Helle
H Grudd
R Jalkanen
T Levanic
Hans W. Linderholm
I Robertson
E Sonninen
K Treydte
JS Waterhouse
EJ Woodley
PM Wynn
GHF Young
Published in Global Change Biology
Volume 20
Issue 12
Pages 3700-3712
ISSN 1354-1013
Publication year 2014
Published at Department of Earth Sciences
Pages 3700-3712
Language en
Keywords carbon isotope discrimination, climate change, dynamic vegetation model, tree rings
Subject categories Geosciences, Multidisciplinary


The increasing carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in the atmosphere in combination with climatic changes throughout the last century are likely to have had a profound effect on the physiology of trees: altering the carbon andwater fluxes passing through the stomatal pores. However, the magnitude and spatial patterns of such changes in natural forests remain highly uncertain. Here, stable carbon isotope ratios from a network of 35 tree-ring sites located across Europe are investigated to determine the intrinsic water-use efficiency (iWUE), the ratio of photosynthesis to stomatal conductance from 1901 to 2000. The results were compared with simulations of a dynamic vegetation model (LPX-Bern 1.0) that integrates numerous ecosystem and land– atmosphere exchange processes in a theoretical framework. The spatial pattern of tree-ring derived iWUE of the investigated coniferous and deciduous species and themodel results agreed significantlywith a clear south-to-north gradient, as well as a general increase in iWUE over the 20th century. The magnitude of the iWUE increase was not spatially uniform, with the strongest increase observed and modelled for temperate forests in Central Europe, a region where summer soil-water availability decreased over the last century. We were able to demonstrate that the combined effects of increasing CO2 and climate change leading to soil drying have resulted in an accelerated increase in iWUE. These findings will help to reduce uncertainties in the land surface schemes of global climate models, where vegetation–climate feedbacks are currently still poorly constrained by observational data.

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