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Impacts of cloud immersion on microclimate, photosynthesis and water relations of Abies fraseri (Pursh.) Poiret in a temperate mountain cloud forest

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Abstract

The red spruce-Fraser fir ecosystem [Picea rubens Sarg.-Abies fraseri (Pursh) Poir.] of the southern Appalachian mountains, USA, is a temperate zone cloud forest immersed in clouds for 30–40% of a typical summer day, and experiencing immersion on about 65% of all days annually. We compared the microclimate, photosynthetic gas exchange, and water relations of Fraser fir trees in open areas during cloud-immersed, low-cloud, or sunny periods. In contrast to sunny periods, cloud immersion reduced instantaneous sunlight irradiance by 10–50%, and midday atmospheric vapor pressure deficit (VPD) was 85% lower. Needle surfaces were wet for up to 16 h per day during cloud-immersed days compared to <1 h for clear days. Shoot-level light-saturated photosynthesis (A sat) on both cloud-immersed (16.0 μmol m−2 s−1) and low-cloud (17.9 μmol m−2 s−1) days was greater than A sat on sunny days (14.4 μmol m−2 s−1). Daily mean A was lowest on cloud-immersed days due to reduced sunlight levels, while leaf conductance (g) was significantly higher, with a mean value of 0.30 mol m−2 s−1. These g values were greater than commonly reported for conifer tree species with needle-like leaves, and declined exponentially with increasing leaf-to-air VPD. Daily mean transpiration (E) on immersed days was 43 and 20% lower compared to sunny and low-cloud days, respectively. As a result, daily mean water use efficiency (A/E) was lowest on cloud-immersed days due to light limitation of A, and high humidity resulted in greater uncoupling of A from g. Thus, substantial differences in photosynthetic CO2 uptake, and corresponding water relations, were strongly associated with cloud conditions that occur over substantial periods of the summer growth season.

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to W. K. S. We thank the Pisgah National Forest (Grandfather Ranger District) and Mt Mitchell State Park for their cooperation. We are also grateful to Ms Nicole M. Hughes for discussion and insightful comments.

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Correspondence to William K. Smith.

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Communicated by William Resetarits.

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Reinhardt, K., Smith, W.K. Impacts of cloud immersion on microclimate, photosynthesis and water relations of Abies fraseri (Pursh.) Poiret in a temperate mountain cloud forest. Oecologia 158, 229–238 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-008-1128-5

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