Drought-induced decoupling between carbon uptake and tree growth impacts forest carbon turnover time

Steven A. Kannenberg, Antoine Cabon, Flurin Babst, Soumaya Belmecheri, Nicolas Delpierre, Rossella Guerrieri, Justin T. Maxwell, Frederick C. Meinzer, David J.P. Moore, Christoforos Pappas, Masahito Ueyama, Danielle E.M. Ulrich, Steven L. Voelker, David R. Woodruff, William R.L. Anderegg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


The ability of forests to withstand, and recover from, acute drought stress is a critical uncertainty regarding the impacts of climate change on the terrestrial carbon (C) cycle, but it is unclear how drought responses scale from individual trees to whole forests. Here, we assembled a dataset of tree-ring chronologies co-located within the footprint of eddy covariance towers across North America and Europe, with the aim of quantifying the sensitivity of tree radial growth versus gross primary productivity (GPP) during and following drought. We found that drought induced a large decoupling across C cycle processes, whereby GPP was relatively resistant to water stress despite large reductions in tree-ring widths. This decoupling also occurred in the year following drought (i.e., a ‘drought legacy effect’), and was similar in magnitude in response to both summer and winter droughts. By modeling whole-forest C turnover time, we show that a radial growth-GPP decoupling has important ramifications for the forest C cycle, especially if the C not used to support radial growth is instead allocated towards pools with short residence times. Our results demonstrate that quantifications of drought impacts that rely solely on C uptake are missing this fundamental pathway through which drought alters the forest C cycle and the resulting feedbacks to the climate system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number108996
JournalAgricultural and Forest Meteorology
StatePublished - Jul 15 2022


  • GPP
  • Legacy effect
  • Resilience
  • Resistance
  • Tree rings

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Atmospheric Science


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