Increased droughts due to regional shifts in temperature and rainfall regimes are likely to affect forests in temperate regions in the coming decades. To assess their consequences for forest dynamics, we need predictive tools that couple hydrologic processes, soil moisture dynamics and plant productivity. Here, we developed and tested a dynamic forest model that predicts the hydrologic balance of North Patagonian rainforests on Chiloé Island, in temperate South America (42uS). The model incorporates the dynamic linkages between changing rainfall regimes, soil moisture and individual tree growth. Declining rainfall, as predicted for the study area, should mean up to 50% less summer rain by year 2100. We analysed forest responses to increased drought using the model proposed focusing on changes in evapotranspiration, soil moisture and forest structure (above-ground biomass and basal area). We compared the responses of a young stand (YS, ca. 60 years-old) and an old-growth forest (OG, >500 years-old) in the same area. Based on detailed field measurements of water fluxes, the model provides a reliable account of the hydrologic balance of these evergreen, broad-leaved rainforests. We found higher evapotranspiration in OG than YS under current climate. Increasing drought predicted for this century can reduce evapotranspiration by 15% in the OG compared to current values. Drier climate will alter forest structure, leading to decreases in above ground biomass by 27% of the current value in OG. The model presented here can be used to assess the potential impacts of climate change on forest hydrology and other threats of global change on future forests such as fragmentation, introduction of exotic tree species, and changes in fire regimes. Our study expands the applicability of forest dynamics models in remote and hitherto overlooked regions of the world, such as southern temperate rainforests.
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