On the difference in the net ecosystem exchange of CO2 between deciduous and evergreen forests in the southeastern United States
The southeastern United States is experiencing a rapid regional increase in the ratio of pine to deciduous forest ecosystems at the same time it is experiencing changes in climate. This study is focused on exploring how these shifts will affect the carbon sink capacity of southeastern US forests, which we show here are among the strongest carbon sinks in the continental United States. Using eight-year-long eddy covariance records collected above a hardwood deciduous forest (HW) and a pine plantation (PP) co-located in North Carolina, USA, we show that the net ecosystem exchange of CO2 (NEE) was more variable in PP, contributing to variability in the difference in NEE between the two sites (ÄNEE) at a range of timescales, including the interannual timescale. Because the variability in evapotranspiration (ET) was nearly identical across the two sites over a range of timescales, the factors that determined the variability in ÄNEE were dominated by those that tend to decouple NEE from ET. One such factor was water use efficiency, which changed dramatically in response to drought and also tended to increase monotonically in nondrought years (P < 0.001 in PP). Factors that vary over seasonal timescales were strong determinants of the NEE in the HW site; however, seasonality was less important in the PP site, where significant amounts of carbon were assimilated outside of the active season, representing an important advantage of evergreen trees in warm, temperate climates. Additional variability in the fluxes at long-time scales may be attributable to slowly evolving factors, including canopy structure and increases in dormant season air temperature. Taken together, study results suggest that the carbon sink in the southeastern United States may become more variable in the future, owing to a predicted increase in drought frequency and an increase in the fractional cover of southern pines.