Long-term variability and environmental control of the carbon cycle in an oak-dominated temperate forest
Our understanding of the long-term carbon (C) cycle of temperate deciduous forests and its sensitivity to climate variability is limited due to the large temporal dynamics of C fluxes. The goal of the study was to quantify the effects of environmental variables on the C balance in a 70-year-old mixed-oak woodland forest over a 7-year period in northwest Ohio, USA. The net ecosystem exchanges (NEE) of C were measured using the eddy-covariance technique. Long-term mean NEE, ecosystem respiration (ER), and gross ecosystem productivity (GEP) were 339 ± 34, 1213 ± 84, and 1552 ± 82 g C m-2 year-1, respectively. Warming increased ER more than GEP when the available water was not limited, but decreased GEP more than ER when the available water was limited, resulting in decreasing net C fluxes under both conditions. The decreasing net C sink in summer was associated with increasing air temperature (Ta) in spring. The leaf area index (LAI), photosynthetically-active radiation (PAR), and Ta were the most important determinants of NEE for spring, summer, and winter, respectively; however, these variables failed to explain NEE for autumn. The most important determinants of ER and GEP were soil temperature (Ts) in spring, Ta and PAR in summer, and Ta in autumn. Ta was the only control of ER in winter. The annual variation in NEE was larger than that of GEP or ER. The controls of GEP on NEE were more pronounced seasonally and annually than those of ER. The annual GEP was consistently more variable than the annual ER. GEP was also seasonally and annually correlated with ER. Practical models derived from different combinations of independent variables effectively predicted 87%, 80%, and 93% of the monthly variability in NEE, ER, and GEP, respectively. We concluded that the variability in C fluxes was more responsive to increasing Ta and Ts than to variations in seasonal and annual precipitation. The study implies that a warmer climate is likely to reduce the forest productivity and C-sink capacity of oak ecosystems in the future, especially in instances when water inputs become limiting.