Size-mediated Tree Transpiration along Soil Drainage Gradients in a Boreal Black Spruce Forest Wildfire Chronosequence

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Tree Physiology

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Boreal forests are crucial to climate change predictions because of their large land area and ability to sequester and store carbon, which is controlled by water availability. Heterogeneity of these forests is predicted to increase with climate change through more frequent wildfires, warmer, longer growing seasons and potential drainage of forested wetlands. This study aims at quantifying controls over tree transpiration with drainage condition, stand age and species in a central Canadian black spruce boreal forest. Heat dissipation sensors were installed in 2007 and data were collected through 2008 on 118 trees (69 Picea mariana (Mill.) Britton, Sterns & Poggenb. (black spruce), 25 Populus tremuloides Michx. (trembling aspen), 19 Pinus banksiana Lamb. (jack pine), 3 Larix laricina (Du Roi) K. Koch (tamarack) and 2 Salix spp. (willow)) at four stand ages (18, 43, 77 and 157 years old) each containing a well- and poorly-drained stand. Transpiration estimates from sap flux were expressed per unit xylem area, JS, per unit ground area, EC and per unit leaf area, EL, using sapwood (AS) and leaf (AL) area calculated from stand- and species-specific allometry. Soil drainage differences in transpiration were variable; only the 43- and 157-year-old poorly-drained stands had ∼ 50% higher total stand EC than well-drained locations. Total stand EC tended to decrease with stand age after an initial increase between the 18- and 43-year-old stands. Soil drainage differences in transpiration were controlled primarily by short-term physiological drivers such as vapor pressure deficit and soil moisture whereas stand age differences were controlled by successional species shifts and changes in tree size (i.e., AS). Future predictions of boreal climate change must include stand age, species and soil drainage heterogeneity to avoid biased estimates of forest water loss and latent energy exchanges.


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