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New Phytol. 2015 Apr;206(1):196-208. doi: 10.1111/nph.13251. Epub 2015 Jan 5.

The photochemical reflectance index provides an optical indicator of spring photosynthetic activation in evergreen conifers.

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Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, T6G 2E3, Canada.


In evergreens, the seasonal down-regulation and reactivation of photosynthesis is largely invisible and difficult to assess with remote sensing. This invisible phenology may be changing as a result of climate change. To better understand the mechanism and timing of these hidden physiological transitions, we explored several assays and optical indicators of spring photosynthetic activation in conifers exposed to a boreal climate. The photochemical reflectance index (PRI), chlorophyll fluorescence, and leaf pigments for evergreen conifer seedlings were monitored over 1 yr of a boreal climate with the addition of gas exchange during the spring. PRI, electron transport rate, pigment levels, light-use efficiency and photosynthesis all exhibited striking seasonal changes, with varying kinetics and strengths of correlation, which were used to evaluate the mechanisms and timing of spring activation. PRI and pigment pools were closely timed with photosynthetic reactivation measured by gas exchange. The PRI provided a clear optical indicator of spring photosynthetic activation that was detectable at leaf and stand scales in conifers. We propose that PRI might provide a useful metric of effective growing season length amenable to remote sensing and could improve remote-sensing-driven models of carbon uptake in evergreen ecosystems.


acclimation; chlorophyll fluorescence; cold stress; evergreen conifers; photochemical reflectance index (PRI); photosynthesis; pigments; spring activation

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