Rising atmospheric carbon dioxide [CO2] can accelerate tree growth by stimulating photosynthesis and increasing intrinsic water-use efficiency (iWUE). Little evidence exists, however, for the long-term growth and gas-exchange responses of mature trees in tropical forests to the combined effects of rising [CO2] and other global changes such as warming. Using tree rings and stable isotopes of carbon and oxygen, we investigated long-term trends in the iWUE and stem growth (basal area increment, BAI) of three canopy tree species in a tropical monsoon forest in western Thailand (Chukrasia tabularis, Melia azedarach, and Toona ciliata). To do this, we modelled the contribution of ontogenetic effects (tree diameter or age) and calendar year to variation in iWUE, oxygen isotopes, and BAI using mixed-effects models. Although iWUE increased significantly with both tree diameter and calendar year in all species, BAI at a given tree diameter was lower in more recent years. For one species, C. tabularis, differences in crown dominance significantly influence stable isotopes and growth. Tree ring Δ18O increased with calendar year in all species, suggesting that increasing iWUE may have been driven by relatively greater reductions in stomatal conductance – leading to enrichment in Δ18O – than increases in photosynthetic capacity. Plausible explanations for the observed declines in growth include water stress resulting from rising temperatures and El Niño events, increased respiration, changes in allocation, or more likely, a combination of these factors.
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