iForest - Biogeosciences and Forestry


Role of photosynthesis and stomatal conductance on the long-term rising of intrinsic water use efficiency in dominant trees in three old-growth forests in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro

Chiara Palandrani (1-2)   , Renzo Motta (3), Paolo Cherubini (4-5), Milic Curović (6), Vojislav Dukić (7), Giustino Tonon (8), Christian Ceccon (8), Alessandro Peressotti (2), Giorgio Alberti (2-9)

iForest - Biogeosciences and Forestry, Volume 14, Issue 1, Pages 53-60 (2021)
doi: https://doi.org/10.3832/ifor3414-013
Published: Jan 28, 2021 - Copyright © 2021 SISEF

Research Articles

Old-growth forests have an important role in maintaining animal and plant diversity, are important carbon (C) reservoirs and are privileged sites to study long-term plant physiological responses, long-term forest dynamics and climate change impact on forest ecosystems. Several studies have highlighted how old-living trees undergo age-related declines with hydraulic limitations and reduction in photosynthesis, though some recent works have suggested that such a decline is not always observed. Our study aims at understanding the role of atmospheric CO2 increase on tree C uptake and stomatal conductance (gs) in old-living trees by analysing the long-term patterns of tree growth and intrinsic water use efficiency (iWUE) in three old-growth forests in the Balkans (Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro), using dendrochronology and isotopic analysis. We hypothesised a long-term increase in iWUE in the studied old-growth forests, mostly related to enhanced photosynthesis rather than reduced stomatal conductance. Tree cores were sampled from dominant silver fir (Abies alba Mill.) trees in each forest. Tree-ring widths were measured and basal area increments (BAI) were assessed for each sampled tree and, from the six longest chronologies, five decades were chosen for cellulose extraction, its isotopic analysis (δ13C, δ18O), iWUE and leaf water 18O evaporative enrichment above the source water (Δ18OL) determination. We observed a continuous and significant increase in iWUE from 1800 to 2010 in the sampled dominant trees at all the three old-growth forests. Our BAI data and our estimates of Δ18OL across the study period support the idea that enhanced photosynthesis rather than reduced stomatal conductance is the major driver of the measured iWUE increase. Thus, our results support some recent findings challenging the hypothesis that iWUE in forests is primarily the result of a CO2-induced reduction in stomatal conductance as well as the so called hydraulic limitation hypothesis.


Old-growth Forests, Intrinsic Water-Use Efficiency (iWUE), Basal Area Increment, Stable C Isotopes, Atmospheric CO2 Increase

Authors’ address

Chiara Palandrani 0000-0001-9717-0740
Department of Life Sciences, University of Trieste, v. Weiss 2, I-34128 Trieste (Italy)
Chiara Palandrani 0000-0001-9717-0740
Alessandro Peressotti 0000-0001-8804-7935
Giorgio Alberti 0000-0003-2422-3009
Department of Agricultural, Food, Environmental and Animal Sciences, University of Udine, v.le delle Scienze 206, I-33100 Udine (Italy)
Renzo Motta 0000-0002-1631-3840
Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Sciences, University of Turin, l.go Paolo Braccini 2, I-10095 Grugliasco, TO (Italy)
Paolo Cherubini 0000-0002-9809-250X
WSL Swiss Federal Research Institute, CH-8903 Birmensdorf, (Switzerland)
Paolo Cherubini 0000-0002-9809-250X
Faculty of Forestry, University of British Columbia, Vancouver BC (Canada)
Milic Curović 0000-0002-5033-758X
University of Montenegro, Biotechnical Faculty, Mihaila Lalica 1, Podgorica (Montenegro)
Vojislav Dukić
Faculty of Forestry, University of Banja Luka, Bulevar vojvode Stepe Stepanovica 75 a, 78000 Banja Luka (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
Giustino Tonon 0000-0002-4851-0662
Christian Ceccon
Faculty of Science and Technology, Libera Università di Bolzano, I-39100 Bolzano (Italy)
Giorgio Alberti 0000-0003-2422-3009
CNR-IBIMET, v. Caproni 8, I-50145 Firenze (Italy)

Corresponding author

Chiara Palandrani


Palandrani C, Motta R, Cherubini P, Curović M, Dukić V, Tonon G, Ceccon C, Peressotti A, Alberti G (2021). Role of photosynthesis and stomatal conductance on the long-term rising of intrinsic water use efficiency in dominant trees in three old-growth forests in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro. iForest 14: 53-60. - doi: 10.3832/ifor3414-013

Academic Editor

Rossella Guerrieri

Paper history

Received: Mar 27, 2020
Accepted: Nov 30, 2020

First online: Jan 28, 2021
Publication Date: Feb 28, 2021
Publication Time: 1.97 months

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