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A Simulation of the Importance of Length of Growing Season and Canopy Functional Properties on the Seasonal Gross Primary Production of Temperate Alpine Meadows

Baptist, Florence, Choler, Philippe
Annals of botany 2008 v.101 no.4 pp. 549-559
alpine meadows, alpine plants, canopy, carbon, ecosystems, environmental factors, functional properties, growing season, leaf angle, leaf area index, models, nitrogen content, photosynthetically active radiation, primary productivity, snowmelt
BACKGROUND AND AIMS: Along snowmelt gradients, the canopies of temperate alpine meadows differ strongly in their structural and biochemical properties. Here, a study is made of the effects of these canopy dissimilarities combined with the snow-induced changes in length of growing season on seasonal gross primary production (GPP). METHODS: Leaf area index (LAI) and community-aggregated values of leaf angle and leaf nitrogen content were estimated for seven alpine plant canopies distributed along a marked snowmelt gradient, and these were used as input variables in a sun-shade canopy bulk-photosynthesis model. The model was validated for plant communities of early and late snowmelt sites by measuring the instantaneous CO₂ fluxes with a canopy closed-chamber technique. A sensitivity analysis was conducted to estimate the relative impact of canopy properties and environmental factors on the daily and seasonal GPP. KEY RESULTS: Carbon uptake was primarily related to the LAI and total canopy nitrogen content, but not to the leaf angle. For a given level of photosynthetically active radiation, CO₂ assimilation was higher under overcast conditions. Sensitivity analysis revealed that increase of the length of the growing season had a higher effect on the seasonal GPP than a similar increase of any other factor. It was also found that the observed greater nitrogen content and larger LAI of canopies in late-snowmelt sites largely compensated for the negative impact of the reduced growing season. CONCLUSIONS: The results emphasize the primary importance of snow-induced changes in length of growing season on carbon uptake in alpine temperate meadows. It was also demonstrated how using leaf-trait values of the dominants is a useful approach for modelling ecosystem carbon-cycle-related processes, particularly when continuous measurements of CO₂ fluxes are technically difficult. The study thus represents an important step in addressing the challenge of using a plant functional-trait approach for biogeochemical modelling.