Influence of cold soil and snowcover on photosynthesis and leaf conductance in two Rocky Mountain conifers

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The influence of cold soil and snowcover on photosynthesis and conductance of Picea engelmannii and Pinus contorta was investigated early in the growing season in the Medicine Bow Mountains, Wyoming, USA. Trees of both species growing in cold soil (<1°C) associated with snowpack had 25-40% lower leaf photosynthesis than trees in warm soils (>10°C). In cold soils leaf conductance of both species was lower, but more so in Pinus, leading to lower intercellular CO2 concentrations and greater stomatal limitation of photosynthesis. Soil temperature had no effect on predawn and midday shoot water potentials of Pinus and Picea and lower photosynthesis and conductance did not appear to be a result of lower bulk shoot water potential. Predawn, as well as midday, water potentials of Pinus were consistently higher than Picea suggesting that Pinus may have deeper roots, although trenching experiments indicated young Picea trees have more extensive lateral root systems than similar sized Pinus trees. Young Picea trees (<2 m in height) in snowbanks were capable of utilizing warmer soil 4 m from their base. Under similar conditions Pinus in snowbanks had lower photosynthesis and conductance than controls and Pinus did not appear capable of utilizing warmer soils nearby. Under full sunlight, PPFD reflected from the snow surface was 400-1400 μmol m-2 s-1 higher than from snow-free surfaces. This reflected light resulted in a 10%-20% increase in photosynthesis of Picea. The beneficial effect of reflected light was apparent whether or not photosynthesis was reduced by low soil temperatures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)546-552
Number of pages7
Issue number4
StatePublished - Sep 1989


  • Photosynthesis
  • Picea engelmannii
  • Pinus contorta
  • Roots
  • Snow
  • Soil temperature

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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