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The Frequency of Growing Season Frost in the Subalpine Environment (Medicine Bow Mountains, Southeastern Wyoming), The Interaction of Leaf Morphology and Infrared Radiational Cooling and the Effects of Freezing on Native Vegetation

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Doctoral thesis

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The subalpine environment is characterized by the possibility of frost throughout the summer. The frequency and severity of summertime frost episodes appeared particularly dependent on net losses of infrared energy to a cold night sky radiation frost, as well as air temperature and wind speed. Longwave radiation minima from the night sky were strongly correlated with the occurrence of leaf temperature minima. Leaf temperatures were modeled using an energy balance simulation that quantified the specific effects of ambient air temperature, wind speed, sky infrared radiation, and sky exposure characteristic of this high-elevation environment. Plants growing in exposed and sheltered habitats have characteristic leaf structures smaller, thicker leaves in more exposed locations that have been traditionally associated with the total amount of incident sunlight. However, smaller leaves also appear adaptive for reducing the susceptibility to radiation frosts. Larger, more exposed leaves resulted in colder nocturnal leaf temperatures and greater frost frequencies. Microsite sky radiation, microtopography, plant habit and leaf structure all have important implications for estimating growing season length and plant distribution patterns, especially at higher elevations where summer frosts are common. Radiational frosts at night are typically followed by clear skies and full-sun exposure the next morning. The combination of low temperature stress followed by high light exposure can result in strong photoinhibition of photosynthesis. The morphology of a variety of conifer needles as well as of a broadleaf was modeled to evaluate the effect on incident sunlight intensity. Conifer leaf morphology was found to be particularly adaptive for avoiding high incident light conditions compared to broadleaves.

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  • Biology
  • Thermodynamics

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