Seasonal Influences on the Carbon-Water Relations in Ponderosa Pine Forests in the Northern Boundary of the North American Monsoon System
AdvisorMonson, Russell K.
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractClimate models have projected that arid and semiarid lands will experience warmer and drier conditions for the next 100 years. For the last twenty years, the Southwestern US has been experiencing one of the worst droughts over the last century, not only threatening ecological systems but also the water security of its population. Understanding the environmental processes that affect arid and semiarid forests are essential to better understand the water and carbon cycles, and tree-ring research has contributed valuable knowledge in this regard. There is a common understanding that moisture-stress has significant impacts on forested ecosystems and thereby on the global carbon and water cycles. Under persistent moisture deficit, a decline in growth, an increased proportion of wildfires, insect outbreaks, and mass-tree-mortality are often observed in arid and semi-arid forests, having large impacts on their carbon budgets and their capacity to act as a carbon sink. This study addresses the seasonal and regional climatic influences on the water-carbon relations in the ponderosa pine forests of the southwestern US (SW). This region is characterized by a complex climatology related to the North American Monsoon system (NAMS). A topic of interest in this dissertation is the role of the summer rainfall after the early-summer hyper-arid period in the region, providing a unique seasonal condition for these ecosystems to thrive. While these forests clearly rely on winter snowpack to drive much of their annual net primary productivity, the temporal and regional extent to which they supplement winter moisture with summer monsoon moisture needs to be clarified. The core of this dissertation is a study of the spatial and temporal variability of the stable carbon and oxygen isotopes in the cellulose of subsections of the tree rings (e.g., earlywood and latewood) collected from a network of thirteen sites along a latitudinal gradient extending from southern Arizona and New Mexico, through southwest Colorado, and up to northern Utah. The analysis is based on biological and physical processes and their close relationships with isotope effects to infer eco-physiological responses to climate variations over the last century. The stable carbon isotopes are used to derive intrinsic Water-Use Efficiency (iWUE) defined by the molar ratio of carbon gain to water loss. The stable oxygen isotope ratio is used to infer the variations on evaporative flux at the leaf level, which depend on stomatal conductance, atmospheric vapour pressure deficit at the leaf surface, and variations in the isotopic ratio of the source water. Both isotopic ratios are used to document variations in tree productivity and hydrologic vulnerability within the context of climate change impacts on this region. During the study, it was found that climate change in the SW has impacted the carbon and water cycles of these forests for at least the past twenty years. Additionally, seasonality influence the eco-physiology of ponderosa pine change along the latitudinal gradient, as shown by significant differences between EW and LW. These differences are explained by the large shifts in seasonal VPD, which are more evident in the southern part of our study region due to the mid-summer arrival of monsoon rains. These findings will be useful for regional natural resource managers and improves our understanding of seasonal influences on forest water–carbon relationships. This approach will also be useful to develop seasonally resolved paleoclimate and paleo-ecophysiological reconstructions to characterize the long-term influence of winter versus summer moisture on carbon-water relations in forested ecosystems.
Degree ProgramGraduate College