This study investigated evapotranspiration and CO2 exchange, observed by the eddy covariance method, over two larch-dominated forests, in the middle part of the Lena basin, eastern Siberia. Compared with the Spasskaya Pad (SP) forest, the Elgeeii (EG) forest had more plant biomass and a soil texture that allowed for larger water retention. Observations in three growing seasons revealed that the two sites had similar seasonal patterns of meteorological conditions and almost the same total evapotranspiration; however, the net and gross uptakes of CO2 at the EG forest were 1·61 and 1·31 times those at the SP forest, respectively. The difference in aboveground biomass was probably responsible for the higher productivity at EG. Less aboveground biomass would result in less transpiration by trees at SP, which would be compensated for in total evapotranspiration by soil evaporation and transpiration by the forest floor vegetation. It is likely that forest transpiration is commonly optimized to the same level of evapotranspiration under similar meteorological conditions through differences in the contributions of evapotranspiration from the forest floor vegetation and the soil water availability. Water use efficiency (WUE) displayed different patterns, reflecting the seasonal variations in each flux. Seasonal sequences in the WUE at EG indicated a midsummer depletion, which is commonly observed in forest ecosystems under a broad climate. Daily variation corresponding to the vapour pressure deficit and the cloud cover conditions (reduced solar radiation) was also observed. In contrast, WUE was relatively invariable at the seasonal and daily scales at SP. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.