Water uptake of Alaskan tundra evergreens during the winter-spring transition

Jonathan G. Moser, Steven F. Oberbauer, Leonel Sternberg, Patrick Z. Ellsworth, Gregory Starr, Behzad Mortazavi, Paulo C. Olivas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

3 Scopus citations


PREMISE OF THE STUDY: The cold season in the Arctic extends over 8 to 9 mo, yet little is known about vascular plant physiology during this period. Evergreen species photosynthesize under the snow, implying that they are exchanging water with the atmosphere. However, liquid water available for plant uptake may be limited at this time. The study objective was to determine whether evergreen plants are actively taking up water while under snow and/or immediately following snowmelt during spring thaw. METHODS: In two in situ experiments, one at the plot level and another at the individual species level, 2H-labeled water was used as a tracer injected beneath the snow, after which plant stems and leaves were tested for the presence of the label. In separate experiments, excised shoots of evergreen species were exposed to 2H-labeled water for ~5 s or 60 min and tested for foliar uptake of the label. KEY RESULTS: In both the plot-level and the species-level experiments, some 2H-labeled water was found in leaves and stems. Additionally, excised individual plant shoots exposed to labeled water for 60 min took up significantly more 2H-label than shoots exposed ~5 s. CONCLUSIONS: Evergreen tundra plants take up water under snow cover, some via roots, but also likely by foliar uptake. The ability to take up water in the subnivean environment allows evergreen tundra plants to take advantage of mild spring conditions under the snow and replenish carbon lost by winter respiration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)298-306
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Journal of Botany
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2016



  • Cold season
  • Deuterium
  • Evergreen
  • Frozen soil
  • Permafrost
  • Snow cover
  • Stable isotope
  • Toolik field station
  • Tundra
  • Water uptake

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Plant Science
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics

Cite this

Moser, J. G., Oberbauer, S. F., Sternberg, L., Ellsworth, P. Z., Starr, G., Mortazavi, B., & Olivas, P. C. (2016). Water uptake of Alaskan tundra evergreens during the winter-spring transition. American Journal of Botany, 103(2), 298-306. https://doi.org/10.3732/ajb.1500358