Widespread shift from ecosystem energy to water limitation with climate change

Jasper M.C. Denissen*, Adriaan J. Teuling, Andy J. Pitman, Sujan Koirala, Mirco Migliavacca, Wantong Li, Markus Reichstein, Alexander J. Winkler, Chunhui Zhan, Rene Orth

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

87 Citations (Scopus)


Terrestrial ecosystems are essential for food and water security and CO2 uptake. Ecosystem function is dependent on the availability of soil moisture, yet it is unclear how climate change will alter soil moisture limitation on vegetation. Here we use an ecosystem index that distinguishes energy and water limitations in Earth system model simulations to show a widespread regime shift from energy to water limitation between 1980 and 2100. This shift is found in both space and time. While this is mainly related to a reduction in energy-limited regions associated with increasing surface net radiation, the largest shift towards water limitation is found in regions where net radiation increases are accompanied by soil moisture decreases. We therefore demonstrate a widespread regime shift in ecosystem function that is stronger than implied by individual trends in net radiation, soil moisture and terrestrial evaporation, with important implications for future ecosystem services.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)677-684
JournalNature Climate Change
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jul 2022


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