We examined the effects of atmospheric vapor pressure deficit (VPD) and soil moisture stress (SMS) on leaf- and stand-level CO2 exchange in model 3-year-old coppiced cottonwood (Populus deltoides Bartr.) plantations using the large-scale, controlled environments of the Biosphere 2 Laboratory. A short-term experiment was imposed on top of continuing, long-term CO2 treatments (43 and 120 Pa), at the end of the growing season. For the experiment, the plantations were exposed for 6-14 days to low and high VPD (0.6 and 2.5 kPa) at low and high volumetric soil moisture contents (25-39%). When system gross CO2 assimilation was corrected for leaf area, system net CO2 exchange (SNCE), integrated daily SNCE, and system respiration increased in response to elevated CO2. The increases were mainly as a result of the larger leaf area developed during growth at high CO2, before the short-term experiment; the observed decline in responses to SMS and high VPD treatments was partly because of leaf area reduction. Elevated CO2 ameliorated the gas exchange consequences of water stress at the stand level, in all treatments. The initial slope of light response curves of stand photosynthesis (efficiency of light use by the stand) increased in response to elevated CO2 under all treatments. Leaf-level net CO2 assimilation rate and apparent quantum efficiency were consistently higher, and stomatal conductance and transpiration were significantly lower, under high CO2 in all soil moisture and VPD combinations (except for conductance and transpiration in high soil moisture, low VPD). Comparisons of leaf- and stand-level gross CO2 exchange indicated that the limitation of assimilation because of canopy light environment (in well-irrigated stands; ratio of leaf : stand=3.2-3.5) switched to a predominantly individual leaf limitation (because of stomatal closure) in response to water stress (leaf : stand=0.8-1.3). These observations enabled a good prediction of whole stand assimilation from leaf-level data under water-stressed conditions; the predictive ability was less under well-watered conditions. The data also demonstrated the need for a better understanding of the relationship between leaf water potential, leaf abscission, and stand LAI.
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