Probing the interplay of biophysical constraints and photosynthesis to model tree growth

Antoine Cabon*, Aitor Ameztegui, William R.L. Anderegg, Jordi Martínez-Vilalta, Miquel De Cáceres

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Tree growth is a key uncertainty in projections of forest productivity and the global carbon cycle. While global vegetation models commonly represent tree growth as a carbon assimilation (source)-driven process, accumulating evidence points toward widespread non-photosynthetic (sink) limitations. Notably, growth biophysical potential, defined as the upper-limit to tree growth imposed by temperature and turgor constraints on cell division, has been suggested to be a potent driver of observed decoupling between tree growth and photosynthesis. Understanding the interplay between biophysical potential and photosynthesis and how to accommodate it parsimoniously in models remains a challenge. Here, we use a soil-plant-atmosphere continuum model together with a regional network of forest structure and annual, radial tree growth observations extending over three decades to simulate tree photosynthesis and biophysical potential along an aridity gradient and across five tree species in NE Spain. We then apply a linear modelling framework to quantify the relative importance of photosynthesis, biophysical potential and their interactions to predict annual tree growth along the aridity gradient. Overall similar relative importance of photosynthesis and biophysical potential was underlain by strong variations with climate, photosynthesis being more relevant at wet sites and biophysical potential at dry sites. Observed spatial and temporal trends further suggested that tree growth is primarily limited by biophysical potential under dry conditions and that disregarding it could lead to underestimating tree growth decline with increased aridity under climate change. Our results support the idea that biophysical potential is an important component of sink limitations to tree radial growth. Its representation in vegetation models could accommodate spatially and temporally dynamic source-sink limitations on tree growth.

Original languageEnglish
Article number109852
Number of pages11
JournalAgricultural and Forest Meteorology
Publication statusPublished - 15 Feb 2024


  • Biophysical
  • Lockhart equation
  • Modelling
  • Photosynthesis
  • Source-sink interactions
  • Tree growth


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