Biophysical control of leaf temperature

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Ning Dong1, Iain Colin Prentice2,3 and Ian J. Wright3, (1)Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW, Australia, (2)Imperial College London, Ascot, United Kingdom, (3)Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia
In principle sunlit leaves can maintain their temperatures within a narrower range than ambient temperatures. This is an important and long-known (but now overlooked) prediction of energy balance theory. Net radiation at leaf surface in steady state (which is reached rapidly) must be equal to the combination of sensible and latent heat exchanges with surrounding air, the former being proportional to leaf-to-air temperature difference (ΔT), the latter to the transpiration rate. We present field measurements of ΔT which confirm the existence of a ‘crossover temperature’ in the 25-30˚C range for species in a tropical savanna and a tropical rainforest environment. This finding is consistent with a simple representation of transpiration as a function of net radiation and temperature (Priestley-Taylor relationship) assuming an entrainment factor (ω) somewhat greater than the canonical value of 0.26. The fact that leaves in tropical forests are typically cooler than surrounding air, often already by solar noon, is consistent with a recently published comparison of MODIS day-time land-surface temperatures with air temperatures.

Theory further predicts a strong dependence of leaf size (which is inversely related to leaf boundary-layer conductance, and therefore to absolute magnitude of ΔT) on moisture availability. Theoretically, leaf size should be determined by either night-time constraints (risk of frost damage to active leaves) or day-time constraints (risk of heat stress damage),with the former likely to predominate – thereby restricting the occurrence of large leaves – at high latitudes. In low latitudes, daytime maximum leaf size is predicted to increase with temperature, provided that water is plentiful. If water is restricted, however, transpiration cannot proceed at the Priestley-Taylor rate, and it quickly becomes advantageous for plants to have small leaves, which do not heat up much above the temperature of their surroundings.

The difference between leaf and air temperature is generally neglected in terrestrial ecosystem and carbon cycle models. This is a significant omission that could lead to an over-estimation of the heat-stress vulnerability of carbon uptake in the wet tropics. Leaf energy balance theory is well established, and should be included in the next generation of models.