Understanding relations among forest carbon (C) uptake and water use is critical for predicting forest-climate interactions. Although the basic properties of tree-water relations have long been known, our understanding of broader-scale patterns is limited by several factors including (1) incomplete understanding of drivers of change in coupled C and water fluxes and water use efficiency (WUE), (2) difficulty in reconciling WUE estimates obtained at different scales, and (3) uncertainty in how evapotranspiration (ET) and WUE vary with other important resources such as nitrogen (N). To address these issues, we examined ET, gross primary production (GPP), and WUE at 11 AmeriFlux sites across North America. Our analysis spanned leaf and ecosystem scales and included foliar δ13C, δ18O, and %N measurements; eddy covariance estimates of GPP and ET; and remotely sensed estimates of canopy %N. We used flux data to derive ecosystem WUE (WUEe) and foliar δ13C to infer intrinsic WUE. We found that GPP, ET, and WUEe scaled with canopy %N, even when environmental variables were considered, and discuss the implications of these relationships for forest-atmosphere-climate interactions. We observed opposing patterns of WUE at leaf and ecosystem scales and examined uncertainties to help explain these opposing patterns. Nevertheless, significant relationship between C isotope-derived ci/ca and GPP indicates that δ13C can be an effective predictor of forest GPP. Finally, we show that incorporating species functional traits—wood anatomy, hydraulic strategy, and foliar %N—into a conceptual model improved the interpretation of Δ13C and δ18O vis-à-vis leaf to canopy water-carbon fluxes.


Earth Systems Research Center

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Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences


American Geophysical Union (AGU)

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©2016. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved.


This is an article published by AGU in Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences in 2016, available online: