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Increased water-use efficiency and reduced CO2 uptake by plants during droughts at a continental-scale

Peters, W., Van der Velde, I., Van Schaik, E., Miller, J., Ciais, P., Duarte, H., van der Laan-Luijkx, I., Van der Molen, M., Scholze, M., Schaefer, K., Vidale, P. L., Verhoef, A., Warlind, D., Zhu, D., Tans, P., Vaughn, B. and White, J. (2018) Increased water-use efficiency and reduced CO2 uptake by plants during droughts at a continental-scale. Nature Geoscience, 11. pp. 744-748. ISSN 1752-0894

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1038/s41561-018-0212-7

Abstract/Summary

Severe droughts in the Northern Hemisphere cause a widespread decline of agricultural yield, the reduction of forest carbon uptake, and increased CO2 growth rates in the atmosphere. Plants respond to droughts by partially closing their stomata to limit their evaporative water loss, at the expense of carbon uptake by photosynthesis. This trade-off maximizes their water-use efficiency (WUE), as measured for many individual plants under laboratory conditions and field experiments. Here we analyse the 13C/12C stable isotope ratio in atmospheric CO2 to provide new observational evidence of the impact of droughts on the WUE across areas of millions of square kilometres and spanning one decade of recent climate variability. We find strong and spatially coherent increases in WUE along with widespread reductions of net carbon uptake over the Northern Hemisphere during severe droughts that affected Europe, Russia and the United States in 2001–2011. The impact of those droughts on WUE and carbon uptake by vegetation is substantially larger than simulated by the land-surface schemes of six state-of-the-art climate models. This suggests that drought-induced carbon–climate feedbacks may be too small in these models and improvements to their vegetation dynamics using stable isotope observations can help to improve their drought response.

Item Type:Article
Refereed:Yes
Divisions:Faculty of Science > School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science > Department of Geography and Environmental Science
Faculty of Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > NCAS
Faculty of Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > Department of Meteorology
ID Code:78233
Publisher:Nature Publishing Group

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