Apr 17, 2020

Controls on and consequences of specific leaf area variation with permafrost depth in a boreal forest

BioRxiv : the Preprint Server for Biology
Carolyn AndersonJ. C. Stegen


Specific leaf area (SLA, leaf area per unit dry mass) is a key canopy structural characteristic, a measure of photosynthetic capacity, and an important input into many terrestrial process models. Although many studies have examined SLA variation, relatively few data exist from high latitude, climate-sensitive permafrost regions. We measured SLA and soil and topographic properties across a boreal forest permafrost transition, in which forest composition changed as permafrost deepened from 54 to >150 cm over 75 m hillslope transects in Caribou-Poker Creeks Research Watershed, Alaska. We characterized both linear and threshold relationships between topographic and edaphic variables and SLA and developed a conceptual model of these relationships. We found that the depth of the soil active layer above permafrost was significantly and positively correlated with SLA for both coniferous and deciduous boreal tree species. Intraspecific SLA variation was associated with a fivefold increase in net primary production, suggesting that changes in active layer depth due to permafrost thaw could strongly influence ecosystem productivity. While this is an exploratory study to begin understanding SLA variation in a non-contiguous permafrost syst...Continue Reading

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