Anisohydric water use behavior links growing season evaporative demand to ring-width increment in conifers from summer-dry environments

Document Type


Journal/Book Title/Conference

Trees - Structure and Function







Publication Date


Award Number

Bureau of Reclamation WaterSmart R13AC80039; Utah Agricultural Experiment Station 1304


Bureau of Reclamation

Utah State University

Utah Agricultural Experiment Station

First Page


Last Page



Key message: Compared to isohydric Pinaceae, anisohydric Cupressaceae exhibited: (1) a threefold larger hydroscape area; (2) growth at lower pre-dawn water potentials that extended longer into the growing season; and (3) stronger coupling of growth to growing season atmospheric moisture demand in summer-dry environments. Abstract: Conifers in the Pinaceae and Cupressaceae from dry environments have been shown to broadly differ in their stomatal sensitivity to soil drying that result in isohydric versus anisohydric water use behavior, respectively. Here, we first employ a series of drought experiments and field observations to confirm the degree of isohydric versus anisohydric water use behavior in species of these two families that are representative of the Interior West of the United States. We then use experimental soil drying to demonstrate how growth of anisohydric Juniperus osteosperma was more closely tied to pre-dawn water potentials than isohydric Pinus monophylla. Finally, we confirm that measured leaf gas-exchange and growth responses to drying hold real-world consequences for conifers from the Interior West. More specifically, across the past ~ 100 years of climate variation, pairwise comparisons of annual ring-width increment responses indicate that growth of Cupressaceae species (J. osteosperma and J. scopulorum) was more strongly coupled to growing season evaporative demand than co-occurring Pinaceae species (Pinus monophylla, P. edulis, P. flexilis, P. longaeva, P. ponderosa, and Pseudotsuga menziesii). Overall, these experimental and observational results suggest that an a priori distinction based on family and associated hydric water use behavior should lead to more accurate and mechanistically correct dendrochronological reconstructions of growing season evaporative demand (i.e., Cupressaceae) versus antecedent precipitation (i.e., Pinaceae) in summer-dry environments. Moreover, these differences in growth sensitivity to evaporative demand among these groups suggest that incorporating hydric water use behavior into models of forest responses to global warming can provide more accurate projections of future forest composition and functioning.