Jarecke, Karla M.; Hawkins, Linnia R.; Bladon, Kevin D.; Wondzell, Steven M. 2023. Carbon uptake by Douglas-fir is more sensitive to increased temperature and vapor pressure deficit than reduced rainfall in the western Cascade Mountains, Oregon, USA. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology. 329:109267. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agrformet.2022.109267
Understanding how trees respond to drought is critical to understanding forest sensitivity to global climate change, which can help inform forest policy and management decisions. However, mechanisms governing carbon fixation and water fluxes in response to increased temperatures and water limitation in regions with Mediterranean climates, with wet winters and dry summers, remain only partially understood. We tested the effect of increased vapor pressure deficit (VPD) and decreased rainfall on water and carbon fluxes of Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) trees using the Soil-Plant-Atmosphere model (SPA). We simulated a 50-year-old Douglas-fir stand on the western slopes of the Cascade Mountains in Oregon, USA. Simulation results showed that increasing the daily maximum VPD by 0.25–2.5 kPa during the summer increased cumulative transpiration by 1–3% and decreased cumulative gross primary production by 3–25%. In contrast, decreasing rainfall by 10–100% during the spring and summer decreased cumulative transpiration by 2–16% and decreased cumulative gross primary production by 0.5–4%. Transpiration was highly sensitive to decreases in rainfall, especially in late spring and early summer but much less sensitive to increases in maximum daily VPD. In contrast, gross primary productivity was much more sensitive to VPD, with summertime increases in VPD having a 5- to 6-fold greater effect on gross primary productivity than did decreasing the rainfall. These results suggested that temperature increases expected from climate change in combination with increases in VPD are likely to reduce forest productivity regardless of soil moisture availability.