Sap flow velocities of Acer saccharum and Quercus velutina during drought: Insights and implications from a throughfall exclusion experiment in West Virginia, USA

Sci Total Environ. 2022 Aug 13;158029. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.158029. Online ahead of print.


Forest species composition mediates evapotranspiration and the amount of water available to human-use downstream. In the last century, the heavily forested Appalachian region has been undergoing forest mesophication which is the progressive replacement of xeric species (e.g. black oak (Quercus velutina)) by mesic species (e.g. sugar maple (Acer saccharum)). Given differences between xeric and mesic species in water use efficiency and rainfall interception losses, investigating the consequences of these species shifts on water cycles is critical to improving predictions of ecosystem responses to climate change. To meet this need, we quantified the degree to which the sap velocities of two dominant broadleaved species (sugar maple and black oak) in West Virginia, responded to ambient and experimentally altered soil moisture conditions using a throughfall exclusion experiment. We then used these data to explore how predictions of future climate under two emissions scenarios could affect forest evapotranspiration rates. Overall, we found that the maples had higher sap velocity rates than the oaks. Sap velocity in maples showed a stronger sensitivity to vapor pressure deficit (VPD), particularly at high levels of VPD, than sap velocity in oaks. Experimentally induced reductions in shallow soil moisture did not have a relevant impact on sap velocity. In response to future climate scenarios of increased vapor pressure deficits in the Central Appalachian Mountains, our results highlight the different degrees to which two important tree species will increase transpiration, and potentially reduce the water available to the heavily populated areas downstream.

Keywords: Acer saccharum; Appalachia; Climate change; Mountain water resources; Quercus velutina; Sap velocity; Transpiration.