Quantifying energy use efficiency via entropy production: a case study from longleaf pine ecosystems

Wiesner, Susanne; Staudhammer, Christina L.; Stoy, Paul C.; Boring, Lindsay R.; Starr, Gregory

Ecosystems are open systems that exchange matter and energy with their environment. They differ in their efficiency in doing so as a result of their location on Earth, structure and disturbance, including anthropogenic legacy. Entropy has been proposed to be an effective metric to describe these differences as it relates energy use efficiencies of ecosystems to their thermodynamic environment (i.e., temperature) but has rarely been studied to understand how ecosystems with different disturbance legacies respond when confronted with environmental variability. We studied three sites in a longleaf pine ecosystem with varying levels of anthropogenic legacy and plant functional diversity, all of which were exposed to extreme drought. We quantified radiative (effrad), metabolic and overall entropy changes – as well as changes in exported to imported entropy (effflux) in response to drought disturbance and environmental variability using 24 total years of eddy covariance data (8 years per site). We show that structural and functional characteristics contribute to differences in energy use efficiencies at the three study sites. Our results demonstrate that ecosystem function during drought is modulated by decreased absorbed solar energy and variation in the partitioning of energy and entropy exports owing to differences in site enhanced vegetation index and/or soil water content. Low effrad and metabolic entropy as well as slow adjustment of effflux at the anthropogenically altered site prolonged its recovery from drought by approximately 1 year. In contrast, stands with greater plant functional diversity (i.e., the ones that included both C3 and C4 species) adjusted their entropy exports when faced with drought, which accelerated their recovery. Our study provides a path forward for using entropy to determine ecosystem function across different global ecosystems.

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Wiesner, Susanne / Staudhammer, Christina L. / Stoy, Paul C. / et al: Quantifying energy use efficiency via entropy production: a case study from longleaf pine ecosystems. 2019. Copernicus Publications.

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