Vertical gradients in photosynthetic physiology diverge at the latitudinal range extremes of white spruce

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TitleVertical gradients in photosynthetic physiology diverge at the latitudinal range extremes of white spruce
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2023
AuthorsSchmiege, SC, Griffin, KL, Boelman, NT, Vierling, LA, Bruner, SG, Min, E, Maguire, AJ, Jensen, J, Eitel, JUH
JournalPlant, Cell & Environment
KeywordsArctic treeline, canopy gradients, carbon balance, LTER-ARC, photochemical reflectance index, photosynthesis, Picea glauca

Light availability drives vertical canopy gradients in photosynthetic functioning and carbon (C) balance, yet patterns of variability in these gradients remain unclear. We measured light availability, photosynthetic CO2 and light response curves, foliar C, nitrogen (N) and pigment concentrations, and the photochemical reflectance index (PRI) on upper and lower canopy needles of white spruce trees (Picea glauca) at the species' northern and southern range extremes. We combined our photosynthetic data with previously published respiratory data to compare and contrast canopy C balance between latitudinal extremes. We found steep canopy gradients in irradiance, photosynthesis and leaf traits at the southern range limit, but a lack of variation across canopy positions at the northern range limit. Thus, unlike many tree species from tropical to mid-latitude forests, high latitude trees may not require vertical gradients of metabolic activity to optimize photosynthetic C gain. Consequently, accounting for self-shading is less critical for predicting gross primary productivity at northern relative to southern latitudes. Northern trees also had a significantly smaller net positive leaf C balance than southern trees suggesting that, regardless of canopy position, low photosynthetic rates coupled with high respiratory costs may ultimately constrain the northern range limit of this widely distributed boreal species.