Examining the evidence for decoupling between photosynthesis and transpiration during heat extremes

Martin G. De Kauwe*, Belinda E. Medlyn, Andrew J. Pitman, John E. Drake, Anna Ukkola, Anne Griebel, Elise Pendall, Suzanne Prober, Michael Roderick

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

60 Citations (Scopus)


Recent experimental evidence suggests that during heat extremes, wooded ecosystems may decouple photosynthesis and transpiration, reducing photosynthesis to near zero but increasing transpiration into the boundary layer. This feedback may act to dampen, rather than amplify, heat extremes in wooded ecosystems.We examined eddy covariance databases (OzFlux and FLUXNET2015) to identify whether there was field-based evidence to support these experimental findings. We focused on two types of heat extremes: (i) the 3 days leading up to a temperature extreme, defined as including a daily maximum temperature > 37 °C (similar to the widely used TXx metric), and (ii) heatwaves, defined as 3 or more consecutive days above 35 °C. When focusing on (i), we found some evidence of reduced photosynthesis and sustained or increased latent heat fluxes at seven Australian evergreen wooded flux sites. However, when considering the role of vapour pressure deficit and focusing on (ii), we were unable to conclusively disentangle the decoupling between photosynthesis and latent heat flux from the effect of increasing the vapour pressure deficit. Outside of Australia, the Tier- 1 FLUXNET2015 database provided limited scope to tackle this issue as it does not sample sufficient high temperature events with which to probe the physiological response of trees to extreme heat. Thus, further work is required to determine whether this photosynthetic decoupling occurs widely, ideally by matching experimental species with those found at eddy covariance tower sites. Such measurements would allow this decoupling mechanism to be probed experimentally and at the ecosystem scale. Transpiration during heatwaves remains a key issue to resolve, as no land surface model includes a decoupling mechanism, and any potential dampening of the land-atmosphere amplification is thus not included in climate model projections.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)903-916
Number of pages14
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 26 Feb 2019

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