Biogeographic variation in evergreen conifer needle longevity and impacts on boreal forest carbon cycle projections

Peter B. Reich, Roy L. Rich, Xingjie Lu, Ying Ping Wang, Jacek Oleksyn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations


Leaf life span is an important plant trait associated with interspecific variation in leaf, organismal, and ecosystem processes. We hypothesized that intraspecific variation in gymnosperm needle traits with latitude reflects both selection and acclimation for traits adaptive to the associated temperature and moisture gradient. This hypothesis was supported, because across 127 sites along a 2,160-km gradient in North America individuals of Picea glauca, Picea mariana, Pinus banksiana, and Abies balsamea had longer needle life span and lower tissue nitrogen concentration with decreasing mean annual temperature. Similar patterns were noted for Pinus sylvestris across a north-south gradient in Europe. These differences highlight needle longevity as an adaptive feature important to ecological success of boreal conifers across broad climatic ranges. Additionally, differences in leaf life span directly affect annual foliage turnover rate, which along with needle physiology partially regulates carbon cycling through effects on gross primary production and net canopy carbon export. However, most, if not all, global land surface models parameterize needle longevity of boreal evergreen forests as if it were a constant. We incorporated temperature-dependent needle longevity and %nitrogen, and biomass allocation, into a land surface model, Community Atmosphere Biosphere Land Exchange, to assess their impacts on carbon cycling processes. Incorporating realistic parameterization of these variables improved predictions of canopy leaf area index and gross primary production compared with observations from flux sites. Finally, increasingly low foliage turnover and biomass fraction toward the cold far north indicate that a surprisingly small fraction of new biomass is allocated to foliage under such conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13703-13708
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number38
StatePublished - Sep 23 2014

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 PNAS.


  • Biogeography
  • Ecotype
  • Pine
  • Spruce


Dive into the research topics of 'Biogeographic variation in evergreen conifer needle longevity and impacts on boreal forest carbon cycle projections'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this