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Plant carbon and water fluxes in tropical montane cloud forests

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 July 2016

Sybil G. Gotsch*
Department of Biology, Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster, PA, USA
Heidi Asbjornsen
Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH, USA
Gregory R. Goldsmith
Ecosystem Fluxes Group, Laboratory for Atmospheric Chemistry, Paul Scherrer Institut, Villigen, Switzerland
1Corresponding author. Email:


Tropical montane cloud forests (TMCFs) are dynamic ecosystems defined by frequent, but intermittent, contact with fog. The resultant microclimate can vary considerably over short spatial and temporal scales, affecting the ecophysiology of TMCF plants. We synthesized research to date on TMCF carbon and water fluxes at the scale of the leaf, plant and ecosystem and then contextualized this synthesis with tropical lowland forest ecosystems. Mean light-saturated photosynthesis was lower than that of lowland forests, probably due to the effects of persistent reduced radiation leading to shade acclimation. Scaled to the ecosystem, measures of annual net primary productivity were also lower. Mean rates of transpiration, from the scale of the leaf to the ecosystem, were also lower than in lowland sites, likely due to lower atmospheric water demand, although there was considerable overlap in range. Lastly, although carbon use efficiency appears relatively invariant, limited evidence indicates that water use efficiency generally increases with altitude, perhaps due to increased cloudiness exerting a stronger effect on vapour pressure deficit than photosynthesis. The results reveal clear differences in carbon and water balance between TMCFs and their lowland counterparts and suggest many outstanding questions for understanding TMCF ecophysiology now and in the future.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2016 

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