The importance of physiological, structural and trait responses to drought stress in driving spatial and temporal variation in GPP across Amazon forests

Flack-Prain, Sophie; Meir, Patrick; Malhi, Yadvinder; Smallman, Thomas Luke; Williams, Mathew

The capacity of Amazon forests to sequester carbon is threatened by climate-change-induced shifts in precipitation patterns. However, the relative importance of plant physiology, ecosystem structure and trait composition responses in determining variation in gross primary productivity (GPP) remain largely unquantified and vary among models. We evaluate the relative importance of key climate constraints to GPP, comparing direct plant physiological responses to water availability and indirect structural and trait responses (via changes to leaf area index (LAI), roots and photosynthetic capacity). To separate these factors we combined the soil–plant–atmosphere model with forcing and observational data from seven intensively studied forest plots along an Amazon drought stress gradient. We also used machine learning to evaluate the relative importance of individual climate factors across sites. Our model experiments showed that variation in LAI was the principal driver of differences in GPP across the gradient, accounting for 33 % of observed variation. Differences in photosynthetic capacity (Vcmax and Jmax) accounted for 21 % of variance, and climate (which included physiological responses) accounted for 16 %. Sensitivity to differences in climate was highest where a shallow rooting depth was coupled with a high LAI. On sub-annual timescales, the relative importance of LAI in driving GPP increased with drought stress (R2=0.72), coincident with the decreased importance of solar radiation (R2=0.90). Given the role of LAI in driving GPP across Amazon forests, improved mapping of canopy dynamics is critical, opportunities for which are offered by new satellite-based remote sensing missions such as GEDI, Sentinel and FLEX.

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Flack-Prain, Sophie / Meir, Patrick / Malhi, Yadvinder / et al: The importance of physiological, structural and trait responses to drought stress in driving spatial and temporal variation in GPP across Amazon forests. 2019. Copernicus Publications.

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Rechteinhaber: Sophie Flack-Prain et al.

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