, Volume 23, Issue 2, pp 415-427

Water flux and canopy conductance of natural versus planted forests in Patagonia, South America

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In NW Patagonia, South America, natural shrublands and mixed forests of short Nothofagus antarctica (G. Forst.) Oerst. trees are currently being replaced by plantations with Pseudotsuga menziesii (Mirb) Franco. This land use change is controversial because the region is prone to drought, and replacement of native vegetation by planted forests may increase vegetation water use. The goal of this study was to examine the physiological differences, especially the response of water flux and canopy conductance to microclimate, that lead to greater water use by exotic trees compared to native trees. Meteorological variables and sapflow density of P. menziesii and four native woody species were measured in the growing season 2005–2006. Canopy conductance (gc) was estimated for both the exotic (monoculture) and native (multi-species) systems, including the individual contributions of each species of the native forest. Sapflow density, stand-level transpiration and gc were related to leaf-to-air vapor pressure difference (VPD). All native species had different magnitudes and diurnal patterns of sapflow density compared to P. menziesii, which could be explained by the different gc responses to VPD. Stomatal sensitivity to VPD suggested that all native species have a stronger stomatal control of leaf water potential and transpiration due to hydraulic limitations compared to P. menziesii. In conclusion, differences in water use between a P. menziesii plantation and a contiguous native mixed forest of similar basal area could be explained by different gc responses to VPD between species (higher sensitivity in the native species), in addition to particular characteristics of the native forest structure.

Communicated by H. Jones.