Variability in Canopy Transpiration with Atmospheric Drivers and Permafrost Thaw Depth in an Arctic Siberian Larch Forest
Thursday, 18 December 2014
Arctic ecosystems are experiencing rapid change associated with amplified rates of climate warming. A general increase in vegetation productivity has been among the expected responses for terrestrial ecosystems in the Arctic. However, recent evidence from satellite derived productivity metrics has revealed a high degree of spatial heterogeneity in the magnitude, and even the direction, of productivity trends in recent decades. Declines in productivity may seem counterintuitive in what are traditionally thought to be temperature limited ecosystems. However a warmer and drier atmosphere in conjunction with changing permafrost conditions may impose hydrologic stresses on vegetation as well. Many Siberian ecosystems receive annual precipitation inputs characteristics of arid and semiarid regions. Boreal forests persist because permafrost acts as an aquatard trapping water near the surface and because historically cool growing season temperatures have kept atmospheric evaporative demand relatively low. As climate change simultaneously warms the atmosphere and deepens the active layer it is likely that vegetation will experience a higher degree of hydrologic limitation, perhaps necessitating the reallocation of resources. Here we use sap flux observations of canopy transpiration to understand the influence of atmospheric and permafrost conditions on the function of an arctic boreal forest in northeastern Siberia. We find that individual trees exhibit stronger responses to atmospheric vapor pressure deficit (D) as the growing season progresses. Further, the magnitude of this response appears to be positively correlated with changes in the depth of permafrost thaw. These results imply that arctic boreal forests will need to adapt to increasing hydrologic stress in order to benefit from what are typically thought of as increasingly favorable growing conditions with continued climate change.