The partitioning of photosynthates toward biomass compartments has a crucial role in the carbon sink function of forests. Few studies have examined how carbon is allocated toward plant compartments in drought prone forests. We analyzed the fate of GPP in relation to yearly water deficit in an old evergreen Mediterranean Quercus ilex coppice severely affected by water limitations. Gross and net carbon fluxes between the ecosystem and the atmosphere were measured with an eddy-covariance flux tower running continuously since 2001. Discrete measurements of litterfall, stem growth and fAPAR allowed us to derive annual productions of leaves, wood, flowers and acorns and an isometric relationship between stem and belowground biomass has been used to estimate perennial belowground growth. By combining eddy-covariance fluxes with annual productions we managed to close a C budget and derive values of autotrophic and heterotrophic respirations, NPP and carbon use efficiency (CUE, the ratio between NPP and GPP). Average values of yearly NEP, GPP and Reco were 282, 1259 and 977 g C m−2. The corresponding ANPP components were 142.5, 26.4 and 69.6 g C m−2 for leaves, reproductive effort (flowers and fruits) and stems. Gross and net carbon exchange between the ecosystem and the atmosphere were affected by annual water deficit. Partitioning to the different plant compartments was also impacted by drought, with a hierarchy of responses going from the most affected, the stem growth, to the least affected, the leaf production. The average CUE was 0.40, which is well in the range for Mediterranean-type forest ecosystems. CUE tended to decrease more slightly in response to drought than GPP and NPP, probably due to drought-acclimation of autotrophic respiration. Overall, our results provide a baseline for modeling the inter-annual variations of carbon fluxes and allocation in this widespread Mediterranean ecosystem and highlight the value of maintaining continuous experimental measurements over the long term.
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