Plant hydraulic transport controls transpiration sensitivity to soil water stress

Brandon P. Sloan, Sally E. Thompson, Xue Feng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Plant transpiration downregulation in the presence of soil water stress is a critical mechanism for predicting global water, carbon, and energy cycles. Currently, many terrestrial biosphere models (TBMs) represent this mechanism with an empirical correction function (β) of soil moisture-A convenient approach that can produce large prediction uncertainties. To reduce this uncertainty, TBMs have increasingly incorporated physically based plant hydraulic models (PHMs). However, PHMs introduce additional parameter uncertainty and computational demands. Therefore, understanding why and when PHM and β predictions diverge would usefully inform model selection within TBMs. Here, we use a minimalist PHM to demonstrate that coupling the effects of soil water stress and atmospheric moisture demand leads to a spectrum of transpiration responses controlled by soil-plant hydraulic transport (conductance). Within this transport-limitation spectrum, β emerges as an end-member scenario of PHMs with infinite conductance, completely decoupling the effects of soil water stress and atmospheric moisture demand on transpiration. As a result, PHM and β transpiration predictions diverge most for soil-plant systems with low hydraulic conductance (transport-limited) that experience high variation in atmospheric moisture demand and have moderate soil moisture supply for plants. We test these minimalist model results by using a land surface model at an AmeriFlux site. At this transport-limited site, a PHM downregulation scheme outperforms the β scheme due to its sensitivity to variations in atmospheric moisture demand. Based on this observation, we develop a new "dynamic β"that varies with atmospheric moisture demand-An approach that overcomes existing biases within β schemes and has potential to simplify existing PHM parameterization and implementation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4259-4274
Number of pages16
JournalHydrology and Earth System Sciences
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 3 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements. Brandon P. Sloan and Xue Feng acknowledge support from National Science Foundation award DEB-2045610. Brandon P. Sloan and Xue Feng also acknowledge the resources from The Minnesota Supercomputing Institute used to run the simulations in this work.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s).


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