Cloud cover increases the proportion of diffuse radiation reaching the Earth's surface and affects many microclimatic factors such as temperature, vapour pressure deficit and precipitation. We compared the relative efficiencies of canopy photosynthesis to diffuse and direct photosynthetic photon flux density (PPFD) for a Norway spruce forest (25-year-old, leaf area index 11 m2 m−2) during two successive 7-day periods in August. The comparison was based on the response of net ecosystem exchange (NEE) of CO2 to PPFD. NEE and stomatal conductance at the canopy level (Gcanopy) was estimated from half-hourly eddy-covariance measurements of CO2 and H2O fluxes. In addition, daily courses of CO2 assimilation rate (AN) and stomatal conductance (Gs) at shoot level were measured using a gas-exchange technique applied to branches of trees. The extent of spectral changes in incident solar radiation was assessed using a spectroradiometer.
We found significantly higher NEE (up to 150%) during the cloudy periods compared with the sunny periods at corresponding PPFDs. Prevailing diffuse radiation under the cloudy days resulted in a significantly lower compensation irradiance (by ca. 50% and 70%), while apparent quantum yield was slightly higher (by ca. 7%) at canopy level and significantly higher (by ca. 530%) in sun-acclimated shoots. The main reasons for these differences appear to be (1) more favourable microclimatic conditions during cloudy periods, (2) stimulation of photochemical reactions and stomatal opening via an increase of blue/red light ratio, and (3) increased penetration of light into the canopy and thus a more equitable distribution of light between leaves.
Our analyses identified the most important reason of enhanced NEE under cloudy sky conditions to be the effective penetration of diffuse radiation to lower depths of the canopy. This subsequently led to the significantly higher solar equivalent leaf area compared with the direct radiation. Most of the leaves in such dense canopy are in deep shade, with marginal or negative carbon balances during sunny days. These findings show that the energy of diffuse, compared with direct, solar radiation is used more efficiently in assimilation processes at both leaf and canopy levels.