Ecosystem Productivity and Evapotranspiration Are Tightly Coupled in Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda L.) Plantations along the Coastal Plain of the Southeastern US Academic Article uri icon


  • Forest water use efficiency (WUE), the ratio of gross primary productivity (GPP) to evapotranspiration (ET), is an important variable to understand the coupling between water and carbon cycles, and to assess resource use, ecosystem resilience, and commodity production. Here, we determined WUE for managed loblolly pine plantations over the course of a rotation on the coastal plain of North Carolina in the eastern U.S. We found that the forest annual GPP, ET, and WUE increased until age ten, which stabilized thereafter. WUE varied annually (2–44%), being higher at young plantation (YP, 3.12 ± 1.20 g C kg−1 H2O d−1) compared to a mature plantation (MP, 2.92 ± 0.45 g C kg−1 H2O d−1), with no distinct seasonal patterns. Stand age was strongly correlated with ET (R2 = 0.71) and GPP (R2 = 0.64). ET and GPP were tightly coupled (R2 = 0.86). Radiation and air temperature significantly affected GPP and ET (R2 = 0.71 − R2 = 0.82) at a monthly scale, but not WUE. Drought affected WUE (R2 = 0.35) more than ET (R2 = 0.25) or GPP (R2 = 0.07). A drought enhanced GPP in MP (19%) and YP (11%), but reduced ET 7% and 19% in MP and YP, respectively, resulting in a higher WUE (27–32%). Minor seasonal and interannual variation in forest WUE of MP (age > 10) suggested that forest functioning became stable as stands matured. We conclude that carbon and water cycles in loblolly pine plantations are tightly coupled, with different characteristics in different ages and hydrologic regimes. A stable WUE suggests that the pine ecosystem productivity can be readily predicted from ET and vice versa. The tradeoffs between water and carbon cycling should be recognized in forest management to achieve multiple ecosystem services (i.e., water supply and carbon sequestration).

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Aguilos, M., Sun, G. e., Noormets, A., Domec, J., McNulty, S., Gavazzi, M., ... King, J.

citation count

  • 3

complete list of authors

  • Aguilos, Maricar||Sun, Ge||Noormets, Asko||Domec, Jean-Christophe||McNulty, Steven||Gavazzi, Michael||Prajapati, Prajaya||Minick, Kevan J||Mitra, Bhaskar||King, John

publication date

  • August 2021