How is water-use efficiency of terrestrial ecosystems distributed and changing on Earth?

Xuguang Tang, Hengpeng Li, Ankur R. Desai, Zoltan Nagy, Juhua Luo, Thomas E. Kolb, Albert Olioso, Xibao Xu, Li Yao, Werner Kutsch, Kim Pilegaard, Barbara Koestner, Christof Ammann

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A better understanding of ecosystem water-use efficiency (WUE) will help us improve ecosystem management for mitigation as well as adaption to global hydrological change. Here, long-term flux tower observations of productivity and evapotranspiration allow us to detect a consistent latitudinal trend in WUE, rising from the subtropics to the northern high-latitudes. The trend peaks at approximately 51 degrees N, and then declines toward higher latitudes. These ground-based observations are consistent with global-scale estimates of WUE. Global analysis of WUE reveals existence of strong regional variations that correspond to global climate patterns. The latitudinal trends of global WUE for Earth's major plant functional types reveal two peaks in the Northern Hemisphere not detected by ground-based measurements. One peak is located at 20 degrees similar to 30 degrees N and the other extends a little farther north than 51 degrees N. Finally, long-term spatiotemporal trend analysis using satellite-based remote sensing data reveals that land-cover and land-use change in recent years has led to a decline in global WUE. Our study provides a new framework for global research on the interactions between carbon and water cycles as well as responses to natural and human impacts.
Original languageEnglish
JournalScientific Reports
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • carbon-water interaction
  • ecosystem evapotranspiration
  • ecosystem productivity
  • global climate pattern
  • latitude effect
  • satellite-based remote sensing data
  • terrestrial ecosystem
  • water-use efficiency
  • Primates Mammalia Vertebrata Chordata Animalia (Animals, Chordates, Humans, Mammals, Primates, Vertebrates) - Hominidae [86215] human common
  • carbon 7440-44-0
  • 07502, Ecology: environmental biology - General and methods
  • Ecology, Environmental Sciences
  • long-term flux tower observation applied and field techniques
  • Terrestrial Ecology
  • CO2


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