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Keywords:

  • boreal deciduous forest;
  • canopy duration;
  • carbon balance;
  • drought;
  • ecosystem respiration;
  • evapotranspiration;
  • gross ecosystem photosynthesis;
  • net ecosystem production;
  • soil water;
  • water balance

Abstract

The carbon and water budgets of boreal and temperate broadleaf forests are sensitive to interannual climatic variability and are likely to respond to climate change. This study analyses 9 years of eddy-covariance data from the Boreal Ecosystem Research and Monitoring Sites (BERMS) Southern Old Aspen site in central Saskatchewan, Canada and characterizes the primary climatic controls on evapotranspiration, net ecosystem production (FNEP), gross ecosystem photosynthesis (P) and ecosystem respiration (R). The study period was dominated by two climatic extremes: extreme warm and cool springs, which produced marked contrasts in the canopy duration, and a severe, 3-year drought.

Annual FNEP varied among years from 55 to 367 g C m−2 (mean 172, SD 94). Interannual variability in FNEP was controlled primarily by factors that affected the R/P ratio, which varied between 0.74 and 0.96 (mean 0.87, SD 0.06). Canopy duration enhanced P and FNEP with no apparent effect on R. The fraction of annual photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) that was absorbed by the canopy foliage varied from 38% in late leaf-emergence years to 51% in early leaf-emergence years. Photosynthetic light-use efficiency (mean 0.0275, SD 0.026 mol C mol−1 photons) was relatively constant during nondrought years but declined with drought intensity to a minimum of 0.0228 mol C mol−1 photons during the most severe drought year. The impact of drought on FNEP varied with drought intensity. Years of mild-to-moderate drought suppressed R while having little effect on P, so that FNEP was enhanced. Years of severe drought suppressed both R and P, causing either little change or a subtle reduction in FNEP. The analysis produced new insights into the dominance of canopy duration as the most important biophysical control on FNEP.

The results suggested a simple conceptual model for annual FNEP in boreal deciduous forests. When water is not limiting, annual P is controlled by canopy duration via its influence on absorbed PAR at constant light-use efficiency. Water stress suppresses P, by reducing light-use efficiency, and R, by limiting growth and/or suppressing microbial respiration. The high photosynthetic light-use efficiency showed this site to be a highly productive boreal deciduous forest, with properties similar to many temperate deciduous forests.