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Impact of intra- versus inter-annual snow depth variation on water relations and photosynthesis for two Great Basin Desert shrubs

  • Author(s): Loik, ME
  • Griffith, AB
  • Alpert, H
  • Concilio, AL
  • Wade, CE
  • Martinson, SJ
  • et al.
Abstract

© 2015, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg. Snowfall provides the majority of soil water in certain ecosystems of North America. We tested the hypothesis that snow depth variation affects soil water content, which in turn drives water potential (Ψ) and photosynthesis, over 10 years for two widespread shrubs of the western USA. Stem Ψ (Ψstem) and photosynthetic gas exchange [stomatal conductance to water vapor (gs), and CO2 assimilation (A)] were measured in mid-June each year from 2004 to 2013 for Artemisia tridentata var. vaseyana (Asteraceae) and Purshia tridentata (Rosaceae). Snow fences were used to create increased or decreased snow depth plots. Snow depth on +snow plots was about twice that of ambient plots in most years, and 20 % lower on −snow plots, consistent with several down-scaled climate model projections. Maximal soil water content at 40- and 100-cm depths was correlated with February snow depth. For both species, multivariate ANOVA (MANOVA) showed that Ψstem, gs, and A were significantly affected by intra-annual variation in snow depth. Within years, MANOVA showed that only A was significantly affected by spatial snow depth treatments for A. tridentata, and Ψstem was significantly affected by snow depth for P. tridentata. Results show that stem water relations and photosynthetic gas exchange for these two cold desert shrub species in mid-June were more affected by inter-annual variation in snow depth by comparison to within-year spatial variation in snow depth. The results highlight the potential importance of changes in inter-annual variation in snowfall for future shrub photosynthesis in the western Great Basin Desert.

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