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Title: Rapid increases in shrubland and forest intrinsic water-use efficiency during an ongoing megadrought
Globally, intrinsic water-use efficiency (iWUE) has risen dramatically over the past century in concert with increases in atmospheric CO 2 concentration. This increase could be further accelerated by long-term drought events, such as the ongoing multidecadal “megadrought” in the American Southwest. However, direct measurements of iWUE in this region are rare and largely constrained to trees, which may bias estimates of iWUE trends toward more mesic, high elevation areas and neglect the responses of other key plant functional types such as shrubs that are dominant across much of the region. Here, we found evidence that iWUE is increasing in the Southwest at one of the fastest rates documented due to the recent drying trend. These increases were particularly large across three common shrub species, which had a greater iWUE sensitivity to aridity than Pinus ponderosa , a common tree species in the western United States. The sensitivity of both shrub and tree iWUE to variability in atmospheric aridity exceeded their sensitivity to increasing atmospheric [CO 2 ]. The shift to more water-efficient vegetation would be, all else being equal, a net positive for plant health. However, ongoing trends toward lower plant density, diminished growth, and increasing vegetation mortality across the Southwest indicate that this increase in iWUE is unlikely to offset the negative impacts of aridification.  more » « less
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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
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National Science Foundation
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