Spatial and temporal variations in plant Water Use Efficiency inferred from tree-ring, eddy covariance and atmospheric observations
Earth System Dynamics Discussions
Plant Water Use Efficiency (<i>WUE</i>), which is the ratio of the uptake of carbon dioxide through photosynthesis to the loss of water through transpiration, is a very useful metric of the functioning of the land biosphere. <i>WUE</i> is expected to increase with atmospheric CO<sub>2</sub>, but to decline with increasing atmospheric evaporative demand – which can arise from increases in near-surface temperature or decreases in relative humidity. We have used Δ<sup>13</sup>C measurements from
... measurements from tree-rings, along with eddy-covariance measurements from Fluxnet sites, to estimate the sensitivities of <i>WUE</i> to changes in CO<sub>2</sub> and atmospheric humidity deficit. This enables us to reconstruct fractional changes in <i>WUE</i>, based on changes in atmospheric climate and CO<sub>2</sub>, for the entire period of the instrumental global climate record. We estimate that overall <i>WUE</i> increased from 1900 to 2010 by 48 ± 22 %, which is more than double that simulated by the latest Earth System Models. This long-term trend is largely driven by increases in CO<sub>2</sub>, but significant inter-annual variability and regional differences are evident due to variations in temperature and relative humidity. There are several highly populated regions, such as Western Europe and East Asia, where the rate of increase of <i>WUE</i> has declined sharply in the last two decades.