Abstracts on Global Climate Change

Nov 2006

Low clouds and cloud immersion enhance photosynthesis in understory species of a southern Appalachian spruce-fir forest (USA)

Johnson, DM Smith, WK


High-attitude forests of the southern Appalachian Mountains (USA) are frequently immersed in clouds, as are many mountain forests. They may be particularly sensitive to predicted increases in cloud base altitude with global warming. However, few studies have addressed the impacts of immersion on incident sunlight and photosynthesis. Understory sunlight (photosynthetically active radiation, PAR) was measured during clear, low cloud, and cloud-immersed conditions at Mount Mitchell and Roan Mountain, NC (USA) along with accompanying photosynthesis in four representative understory species. Understory PAR was substantially less variable on immersed vs. clear days. Photosynthesis became light-saturated between similar to 100 and 400 mu mol center dot m(-2). s(-1) PAR for all species measured, corresponding closely to the sunlight environment measured during immersion. Estimated daily carbon gain was 26% greater on clear days at a more open canopy site but was 22% greater on immersed/cloudy days at a more closed canopy site. F-v/F-m (maximum photosystem II efficiency) in Abies fraseri seedlings exposed to 2.5 min full sunlight was significantly reduced (10%), indicating potential reductions in photosynthesis on clear days. In addition, photosynthesis in microsites with canopy cover was nearly 3-fold greater under immersed (2.6 mmol center dot m(-2) center dot h(-1)) vs. clear conditions (0.9 mmol center dot m(-2) center dot h(-1)). Thus, cloud immersion provided more constant PAR regimes that enhanced photosynthesis, especially in shaded microsites. Future studies are needed to predict the survival of these refugial forests under potential changes in cloud regimes.

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