Biophysical homoeostasis of leaf temperature: a neglected process for vegetation and land-surface modelling

N. Dong*, I. C. Prentice, S. P. Harrison, Q. H. Song, Y. P. Zhang

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    44 Citations (Scopus)


    Aim: Leaf and air temperatures are seldom equal, but many vegetation models assume that they are. Land-surface models calculate canopy temperatures, but how well they do so is unknown. We encourage consideration of the leaf- and canopy-to-air temperature difference (ΔΤ) as a benchmark for land-surface modelling and an important feature of plant and ecosystem function. Location: Tropical SW China. Time period: 2013. Major Taxa studies: Tropical trees. Methods: We illustrate diurnal cycles of leaf- and canopy-to-air temperature difference (ΔΤ) with field measurements in a tropical dry woodland and with continuous monitoring data in a tropical seasonal forest. The Priestley–Taylor (PT) and Penman–Monteith (PM) approaches to evapotranspiration are used to provide insights into the interpretation and prediction of ΔT. Field measurements are also compared with land-surface model results obtained with the Joint U.K. Land Environment Simulator (JULES) set up for the conditions of the site. Results: The ΔT followed a consistent diurnal cycle, with negative values at night (attributable to negative net radiation) becoming positive in the morning, reaching a plateau and becoming negative again when air temperature exceeded a ‘crossover’ in the 24–29 °C range. Daily time courses of ΔT could be approximated by either the PT or the PM model, but JULES tended to underestimate the magnitude of negative ΔT. Main conclusions: Leaves with adequate water supply are partly buffered against air-temperature variations, through a passive biophysical mechanism. This is likely to be important for optimal leaf function, and land-surface and vegetation models should aim to reproduce it.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)998-1007
    Number of pages10
    JournalGlobal Ecology and Biogeography
    Issue number9
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2017


    • boundary-layer conductance
    • crossover temperature
    • energy balance
    • land-surface model
    • leaf temperature
    • stomatal conductance
    • transpiration


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