Limitations To Winter And Spring Photosynthesis Of A Rocky Mountain Subalpine Forest

  • Sites: US-NR1
  • Bowling, D. R., Logan, B. A., Hufkens, K., Aubrecht, D. M., Richardson, A. D., Burns, S. P., Anderegg, W. R., Blanken, P. D., Eiriksson, D. P. (2018/04) Limitations To Winter And Spring Photosynthesis Of A Rocky Mountain Subalpine Forest, Agricultural And Forest Meteorology, 252, 241-255.
  • Funding Agency: DOE, NSF

  • Temperate and boreal conifer forests are dormant for many months during the cold season. Climate change is altering the winter environment, with increased temperature, altered precipitation, and earlier snowmelt in many locations. If significant enough, these changes may alter patterns of dormancy and activity of evergreens. Here we studied the factors limiting photosynthetic activity of a high-elevation subalpine forest that has undergone substantial warming in recent decades. We tested the hypothesis that this warming has been significant enough to allow photosynthesis during sunny warm days in winter. Using thermal imagery, we found that foliage in winter was sometimes near the temperature optimum for photosynthesis, but no net carbon gain occurred for most of the cold season. Water transport was limited by blockage of sap transport by frozen boles, but not by frozen soils. Foliar carotenoid content was much higher during winter, driven largely by increases in the pool size of the photoprotective xanthophyll cycle. There was no seasonal change in chlorophyll or lutein content. Net carbon uptake began only as boles thawed, with no difference in timing among tree species, and the spring increase in canopy-level photosynthetic capacity occurred before sap transport was detected. The seasonality of gross primary productivity (GPP) was strongly linked to seasonality of xanthophyll cycle deepoxidation state in all species. Seasonality of GPP was detectable with two metrics of canopy color – the Green Chromatic Coordinate and Green-Red Vegetation Index (a proxy for the newly proposed MODIS-based chlorophyll/carotenoid index or CCI). Both indices were significantly correlated with GPP. Together these results indicate the potential for airborne or near-surface remote sensing of leaf color to serve as a metric of photosynthetic activity in evergreen forests, and to monitor physiological changes associated with the progression in and out of winter dormancy.