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Water table depth modulates productivity and biomass across Amazonian forests

Sousa T.R., Schietti J., Ribeiro I.O., Emilio T., Herrera Fernández R., Ter Steege H., Castilho C.V., Esquivel-Muelbert A., Baker T.R., Pontes-Lopes A., Silva C.V.J., Silveira J.M., Derroire G., Castro W., Monteagudo Mendoza A.L., Ruschel A.R., Prieto A., Nogueira Lima A.J., Rudas A., Araujo-Murakami A., Parada Gutierrez A., Andrade A., Roopsind A., Manzatto A.G., Di Fiore A., Torres-Lezama A., Dourdain A., Marimon B.S., Marimon Junior B.H., Burban B., van Ulft B., Herault B., et al.. 2022. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 31 (8) : p. 1571-1588.

DOI: 10.1111/geb.13531

Aim: Water availability is the major driver of tropical forest structure and dynamics. Most research has focused on the impacts of climatic water availability, whereas remarkably little is known about the influence of water table depth and excess soil water on forest processes. Nevertheless, given that plants take up water from the soil, the impacts of climatic water supply on plants are likely to be modulated by soil water conditions. Location: Lowland Amazonian forests. Time period: 1971¿2019. Methods: We used 344 long-term inventory plots distributed across Amazonia to analyse the effects of long-term climatic and edaphic water supply on forest functioning. We modelled forest structure and dynamics as a function of climatic, soil-water and edaphic properties. Results Water supplied by both precipitation and groundwater affects forest structure and dynamics, but in different ways. Forests with a shallow water table (depth¿<5¿m) had 18% less above-ground woody productivity and 23% less biomass stock than forests with a deep water table. Forests in drier climates (maximum cumulative water deficit < -160¿mm) had 21% less productivity and 24% less biomass than those in wetter climates. Productivity was affected by the interaction between climatic water deficit and water table depth. On average, in drier climates the forests with a shallow water table had lower productivity than those with a deep water table, with this difference decreasing within wet climates, where lower productivity was confined to a very shallow water table. Main conclusions: We show that the two extremes of water availability (excess and deficit) both reduce productivity in Amazon upland (terra-firme) forests. Biomass and productivity across Amazonia respond not simply to regional climate, but rather to its interaction with water table conditions, exhibiting high local differentiation. Our study disentangles the relative contribution of those factors, helping to improve understanding of the functioning of tropical ecosystems and how they are likely to respond to climate change.

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