Applying a SPA model to examine the impact of climate change on GPP of open woodlands and the potential for woody thickening

Catriona Macinnis-Ng, Melanie Zeppel, Mathew Williams, Derek Eamus*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


Woody thickening is a global phenomenon that influences landscape C density, regional ecohydrology and biogeochemical cycling. The aim of the work described here is to test the hypothesis that increased atmospheric CO2 concentration, with or without photosynthetic acclimation, can increase gross primary production (GPP) and that this can explain woody thickening. We examine mechanisms underlying the response of GPP and highlight the importance of changes in soil water content by applying a detailed soil-plant-atmosphere model. Through this model, we show that CO2 enrichment with decreased or increased D and photosynthetic acclimation results in decreased canopy water use because of reduced gs. The decline in water use coupled with increased photosynthesis resulted in increased GPP, water-use efficiency and soil moisture content. This study shows that this is a valid mechanism for GPP increase because of CO2 enrichment coupled with either a decrease or an increase in D, in water-limited environments. We also show that a large increase in leaf area index could be sustained in the future as a result of the increased soil moisture content arising from CO2 enrichment and this increase was larger if D decreases rather than increases in the future. Large-scale predictions arising from this simple conceptual model are discussed and found to be supported in the literature. We conclude that woody thickening in Australia and probably globally can be explained by the changes in landscape GPP and soil moisture balance arising principally from the increased atmospheric CO2 concentration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)379-393
Number of pages15
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - May 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Ecohydrology
  • SPA modelling
  • Woody thickening


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