Effect of soil temperature on stem sap flow, shoot gas exchange and water potential of Picea engelmannii (Parry) during snowmelt

T. A. Day, E. H. DeLucia, W. K. Smith

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The effect of cold soils on stem sap flow, shoot gas exchange and water potential of Picea engelmannii (Parry) was investigated during the snowmelt period in the Medicine Bow Mountains, Wyoming, USA. Shoot net photosynthetic rates were higher in young trees (1.5-1.8 m in height) growing in cold soils (<3.5° C) associated with snowpack, than trees in warm soils until about 1500 h. Higher shoot photosynthetic rates of trees in cold soils continued after snow was removed and could not be completely explained by higher visible irradiance over highly reflective snow. Following soil warming higher photosynthetic rates were evident in these trees for five days. High nutrient availability associated with snowmelt may improve shoot nutrient status leading to higher gas-exchange rates during snowmelt. Shoot conductance to water vapor was higher in trees in cold soil until midday, when declining shoot conductance led to lower intercellular CO2 concentrations. Midday through afternoon shoot water potentials of trees in cold soils were similar or higher than those of trees in warm soils and the lower afternoon shoot conductances in cold soils were not the result of lower bulk shoot water potentials. Decline in net photosynthesis of trees in cold soils at 1500 h paralleled increases in intercellular CO2 concentrations, implying a nonstomatal limitation of photosynthesis. This scenario occurred consistently in mid-afternoon following higher morning and midday photosynthesis in cold soils, suggesting a carbohydrate feedback inhibition of photosynthesis. Diurnal patterns in stem sap flow of all trees (cold and warm soils) reflected patterns of shoot conductance, although changes in stem sap flow lagged 1-3 h behind shoot conductance apparently due to stem water storage. Total daily stem sap flow was similar in trees in cold and warm soils, although diel patterns differed. The morning surge and night-time drop in sap flow commenced 1-2 h earlier in trees in cold soils. Overnight stem sap flow was lower in trees in cold soils, possibly due to higher resistance to root water uptake in cold soils, which may explain lower predawn shoot water potentials. However, midday shoot water potentials of trees in cold soils equalled or exceeded those of trees in warm soils. Higher resistance to root water uptake in P. engelmannii in cold soils was apparently overshadowed by transpirational forces and significant shoot water deficits did not develop.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)474-481
Number of pages8
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 1990



  • Diurnal
  • Photosynthesis
  • Root
  • Shoot conductance
  • Stem capacitance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics

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