Water savings in mature deciduous forest trees under elevated CO2
Stomatal conductance of plants exposed to elevated CO2 is often reduced. Whether this leads to water savings in tall forest-trees under future CO2 concentrations is largely unknown but could have significant implications for climate and hydrology. We used three different sets of measurements (sap flow, soil moisture and canopy temperature) to quantify potential water savings under elevated CO2 in a ca. 35 m tall, ca. 100 years old mixed deciduous forest. Part of the forest canopy was exposed to 540 ppm CO2 during daylight hours using free air CO2 enrichment (FACE) and the Swiss Canopy Crane (SCC). Across species and a wide range of weather conditions, sap flow was reduced by 14% in trees subjected to elevated CO2, yielding ca. 10% reduction in evapotranspiration. This signal is likely to diminish as atmospheric feedback through reduced moistening of the air comes into play at landscape scale. Vapour pressure deficit (VPD)-sap flow response curves show that the CO2 effect is greatest at low VPD, and that sap flow saturation tends to occur at lower VPD in CO2-treated trees. Matching stomatal response data, the CO2 effect was largely produced by Carpinus and Fagus, with Quercus contributing little. In line with these findings, soil moisture at 10 cm depth decreased at a slower rate under high-CO2 trees than under control trees during rainless periods, with a reversal of this trend during prolonged drought when CO2-treated trees take advantage from initial water savings. High-resolution thermal images taken at different heights above the forest canopy did detect reduced water loss through altered energy balance only at <5 m distance (0.44 K leaf warming of CO2-treated Fagus trees). Short discontinuations of CO2 supply during morning hours had no measurable canopy temperature effects, most likely because the stomatal effects were small compared with the aerodynamic constraints in these dense, broad-leaved canopies. Hence, on a seasonal basis, these data suggest a <10% reduction in water consumption in this type of forest when the atmosphere reaches 540% ppm CO2.
Document Type: Research Article
Affiliations: Institute of Botany, University of Basel, Schönbeinstrasse 6, CH-4056 Basel, Switzerland
Publication date: December 1, 2007