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Keywords:

  • chlorophyll fluorescence;
  • drought;
  • leaf area;
  • leaf fall;
  • leaf growth;
  • net ecosystem CO2 exchange;
  • photosynthesis;
  • photosynthetic electron transport;
  • tropical rainforest;
  • tropical trees

ABSTRACT

The tropical rainforest mesocosm within the Biosphere 2 Laboratory, a model system of some 110 species developed over 12 years under controlled environmental conditions, has been subjected to a series of comparable drought experiments during 2000–2002. In each study, the mesocosm was subjected to a 4–6 week drought, with well-defined rainfall events before and after the treatment. Ecosystem CO2 uptake rate (Aeco) declined 32% in response to the drought, with changes occurring within days and being reversible within weeks, even though the deeper soil layers did not become significantly drier and leaf-level water status of most large trees was not greatly affected. The reduced Aeco during the drought reflected both morphological and physiological responses. It is estimated that the drought-induced 32% reduction of Aeco has three principal components: (1) leaf fall increased two-fold whereas leaf expansion growth of some canopy dominants declined to 60%, leading to a 10% decrease in foliage coverage of the canopy. This might be the main reason for the persistent reduction of Aeco after rewatering. (2) The maximum photosynthetic electron transport rate at high light intensities in remaining leaves was reduced to 71% for three of the four species measured, even though no chronic photo-inhibition occurred. (3) Stomata closed, leading to a reduced ecosystem water conductance to water vapour (33% of pre-drought values), which not only reduced ecosystem carbon uptake rate, but may also have implications for water and energy budgets of tropical ecosystems. Additionally, individual rainforest trees responded differently, expressing different levels of stress and stress avoiding mechanisms. This functional diversity renders the individual response heterogeneous and has fundamental implications to scale leaf level responses to ecosystem dynamics.