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Keywords:

  • Acacia koa, El Niño, reforestation, frost injury, nurse tree, tropical islands

Abstract

Winter frosts caused by radiative cooling were hypothesized to limit successful reintroduction of Hawaiian plants other than Acacia koa to alien-dominated grasslands above 1700 m elevation. We determined, in the laboratory, the temperature at which irreversible tissue damage occurred to Metrosideros polymorpha leaves. We also conducted a field study of this species to determine if (1) leaf damage was correlated with sub-zero leaf temperatures, (2) radiative cooling could be moderated by canopies of A. koa, and (3) low soil temperatures contributed to seedling damage. The last was evaluated by thermally buffering seedlings with water-filled bladders placed at their base to keep roots warm, or by installing a radiation shield to reduce early morning transpiration when water uptake from cold soils would be least. Leaf temperatures were monitored between midnight and 7:00 a.m. using fine-wire thermocouples, and leaf damage was recorded monthly. In the laboratory, supercooling protected leaves from mild sub-zero temperatures; irreversible tissue damage occurred at about −8°C. In the field, leaf damage was strongly correlated with degree-hours below freezing. Unprotected seedlings suffered the greatest leaf damage. Those sheltered under A. koa trees rarely experienced temperatures below −3°C, and damage was minimal. Shaded and thermally buffered seedlings suffered less damage than unprotected plants, probably due to elevated leaf temperatures rather than improved water relations. Using A. koa or artificial devices to reduce radiative cooling during winter nights should enhance establishment of M. polymorpha in high-elevation rangeland.