The mid-elevation forest of California’s Sierra Nevada poses a bioclimatic paradox. Mid-elevation trees experience a montane Mediterranean climate, with near-freezing winter days and rain-free summers. The asynchrony between warmth and water input suggests low primary production, limited by photosynthetic dormancy in winter cold, and again in summer and early autumn with drought, yet this forest is characterized by tall trees and high biomass. We used eddy covariance in a mid-elevation Sierra stand to understand how winter cold and summer drought limit canopy photosynthesis and production. The trees exhibited canopy photosynthesis year-round. Trees avoided winter dormancy, and daytime CO2 uptake continued despite a deep snowpack and near-freezing temperatures. Photosynthesis on sunny days continued at half of maximum rates when air temperature was 0 °C. Likewise, the vegetation avoided summer drought dormancy, and high rates of daytime CO2 uptake and transpiration continued despite a 5-month period with only negligible water input. We attribute this drought avoidance to deep rooting and availability of deep soil water. Year-round photosynthesis helps explain the large biomass observed in the Sierra Nevada, and implies adaptive strategies that may contribute to the resiliency or vulnerability of Sierran vegetation to climate change.
Kelly, A.E., and Goulden, M.L. (2016): A montane Mediterranean climate supports year- round photosynthesis and high forest biomass . Tree Physiology. 36 (4), DOI: 10.1093/treephys/tpv131 . DOI: 10.1093/treephys/tpv131