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  1. Abstract

    Climatic drying is predicted for many tropical forests yet models remain poorly parameterized for these ecosystems, hampering predictions of forest‐climate interactions. We applied an integrated model–experiment approach, parameterizing an ecosystem model with tropical forest observational data and comparing model predictions to a field drying manipulation. We hypothesized that drying suppresses soil CO2fluxes (i.e., respiration) in relatively dry tropical forests but increases CO2fluxes in wetter tropical forests by alleviating anaerobiosis. We measured soil CO2fluxes during wet‐dry cycles from 2015 to 2022 in four Panamanian forests that vary in rainfall and soil fertility. Measured soil CO2fluxes declined in the dry season and peaked in the early wet season ahead of peak soil moisture, resulting in lower soil moisture optima for respiration than previously modeled. We then parameterized the model using field data and the new moisture‐respiration response functions. The updated model predicted increased soil CO2fluxes with drying in wetter and fertile forests and suppressed fluxes in drier, infertile forests. In contrast to model predictions, a chronic throughfall exclusion experiment initially suppressed soil respiration across forests, with sustained suppression for four years in the wettest forest only (−28% ± 4% during the dry season). In the fertile forest, drying eventually elevated CO2fluxes over this period (+75% ± 28% during the late wet season). The unexpected negative drying effect in the wettest, infertile forest could have resulted from reduced vertical flushing of nutrients into soils. Including hydro‐nutrient interactions in ecosystem models could improve predictions of tropical forest‐climate feedbacks.

     
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  2. Climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of short-term (~1 y) drought events—the most common duration of drought—globally. Yet the impact of this intensification of drought on ecosystem functioning remains poorly resolved. This is due in part to the widely disparate approaches ecologists have employed to study drought, variation in the severity and duration of drought studied, and differences among ecosystems in vegetation, edaphic and climatic attributes that can mediate drought impacts. To overcome these problems and better identify the factors that modulate drought responses, we used a coordinated distributed experiment to quantify the impact of short-term drought on grassland and shrubland ecosystems. With a standardized approach, we imposed ~a single year of drought at 100 sites on six continents. Here we show that loss of a foundational ecosystem function—aboveground net primary production (ANPP)—was 60% greater at sites that experienced statistically extreme drought (1-in-100-y event) vs. those sites where drought was nominal (historically more common) in magnitude (35% vs. 21%, respectively). This reduction in a key carbon cycle process with a single year of extreme drought greatly exceeds previously reported losses for grasslands and shrublands. Our global experiment also revealed high variability in drought response but that relative reductions in ANPP were greater in drier ecosystems and those with fewer plant species. Overall, our results demonstrate with unprecedented rigor that the global impacts of projected increases in drought severity have been significantly underestimated and that drier and less diverse sites are likely to be most vulnerable to extreme drought.

     
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available January 23, 2025
  3. Vegetation processes are fundamentally limited by nutrient and water availability, the uptake of which is mediated by plant roots in terrestrial ecosystems. While tropical forests play a central role in global water, carbon, and nutrient cycling, we know very little about tradeoffs and synergies in root traits that respond to resource scarcity. Tropical trees face a unique set of resource limitations, with rock-derived nutrients and moisture seasonality governing many ecosystem functions, and nutrient versus water availability often separated spatially and temporally. Root traits that characterize biomass, depth distributions, production and phenology, morphology, physiology, chemistry, and symbiotic relationships can be predictive of plants’ capacities to access and acquire nutrients and water, with links to aboveground processes like transpiration, wood productivity, and leaf phenology. In this review, we identify an emerging trend in the literature that tropical fine root biomass and production in surface soils are greatest in infertile or sufficiently moist soils. We also identify interesting paradoxes in tropical forest root responses to changing resources that merit further exploration. For example, specific root length, which typically increases under resource scarcity to expand the volume of soil explored, instead can increase with greater base cation availability, both across natural tropical forest gradients and in fertilization experiments. Also, nutrient additions, rather than reducing mycorrhizal colonization of fine roots as might be expected, increased colonization rates under scenarios of water scarcity in some forests. Efforts to include fine root traits and functions in vegetation models have grown more sophisticated over time, yet there is a disconnect between the emphasis in models characterizing nutrient and water uptake rates and carbon costs versus the emphasis in field experiments on measuring root biomass, production, and morphology in response to changes in resource availability. Closer integration of field and modeling efforts could connect mechanistic investigation of fine-root dynamics to ecosystem-scale understanding of nutrient and water cycling, allowing us to better predict tropical forest-climate feedbacks. 
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