Impact of rainfall and vapor pressure deficit on latewood growth and water stress in Douglas-fir in a Mediterranean climate

Publications Type: 
Journal Article
Publication Number: 

Jarecke, Karla M.; Bladon, Kevin D.; Meinzer, Frederick C.; Wondzell, Steven M. 2024. Impact of rainfall and vapor pressure deficit on latewood growth and water stress in Douglas-fir in a Mediterranean climate. Forest Ecology and Management. 551(121529). doi:


Both elevated temperature and reduced precipitation have been related to growth declines in Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) in the northwest U.S. However, the impact of high vapor pressure deficit (VPD) on Douglas-fir growth and physiological stress is not fully understood. We investigated how inter- and intra-annual rainfall and VPD correlated to the radial growth and carbon isotope signature (d13C) of latewood for ~ 50-year-old Douglas-fir trees in the western Cascade Mountains in Oregon. Latewood d13C reflects variation in stomatal restriction of photosynthetic gas exchange and, therefore, was used as a proxy for the relative degree of physiological water stress. We cored three trees at each of nine sampling sites (n = 27 trees) and used a moving window analysis to test the period of the year in which VPD and rainfall best predicted mean latewood radial growth and d13C. Latewood growth, measured as the basal area increment, was more sensitive to daytime VPD than the timing and amounts of rainfall, especially in early summer. In contrast, d13C was equally sensitive to the average daytime VPD and total rainfall during spring and summer. We used the results of the moving window analysis in a linear mixed effects model to test how the effect of VPD and rainfall on yearly latewood growth and d13C differed among our nine sites. We found no evidence for statistical differences in the effects of VPD and rainfall on growth (p = 0.93 and p = 0.91) or d13C (p = 0.31 and p = 0.81) among our nine sites. However, the marginal effects of VPD on latewood growth at each site were weakly related to soil moisture deficits at 100 cm suggesting that site-to-site differences in soil moisture availability may be important in buffering the negative effects of seasonal aridity on growth. In contrast, there was no evidence that soil moisture differences among sites influenced the marginal effects of VPD on latewood d13C. We conclude that increases in VPD during summer are likely to reduce latewood growth and increase water stress in Douglas-fir in the Pacific Northwest region. However, more research is needed to better understand the magnitude of this effect across sites with variable subsurface water storage and microclimate.