Thermal dissipation sensors enter a new age: navigating frontiers in transpiration and hydrologic function
Thermal dissipation (TD) sensors have been used extensively for a wide array of sap flow applications, and yet recently several limitations of this approach have been identified, including a tendency to underestimate absolute flows, especially in small stems with very high flows. However, when used properly, the TD method remains the most cost effective and reliable approach for determining relative flows in comparison studies. Major advantages of this method include the ability to replicate maximally within trees, across trees of different sizes, and across multiple species to capture the full range of natural variation in the study system. From early studies, such variation has been deemed a major challenge for representing stand-level dynamics. In a series of recent comparison studies, we determined mean sap flux density dynamics within and among groups of trees. These studies were conducted within temperate coniferous forest (n=46), temperate oak savanna (n=36), temperate pine forest (n=49), temperate bottomland hardwood forest (n=23), tropical premontane rainforest (n=43), semiarid subtropical shrubland (n=25), and tropical dry forest (n=15), with a total of 237 sensors. Two study sites were also equipped with eddy covariance systems for determination of stand-level evapotranspiration. Sites subject to high background thermal gradients used the transient thermal dissipation method. Comparisons varied between studies but tended to focus on relative flow differences between species, between wetter and drier microsites, between understory and overstory components, or between wetter and drier periods of the growing season. Except for the shrubland sites, study trees tended to be at least 15-cm diameter and frequently exceeded 50-cm diameter. Results of this cross-site comparison highlight the inherent variation in natural stands and the importance of using large sample sizes. The TD approach remains a valuable and preferred method for the future determination of water use in trees. However, sensor replication can fundamentally impact a study's outcomes and should be more carefully considered in study design. Customized error mitigation strategies are best to address the sources of variation most problematic for a particular study. The development of smart calibration approaches that correct for fundamental effects of radial variation inherent in thermal dissipation studies is discussed.
Moore, G.W., Adkison, C., Aparecido, L.M.T., Basant, S., Cooper, C.E., Cross, A.J., Deshpande, A., Catalan, M. and Wright, C. (2020). Thermal dissipation sensors enter a new age: navigating frontiers in transpiration and hydrologic function. Acta Hortic. 1300, 37-46
heat dissipation, relative flow, species comparison, heterogeneity, sampling errors, upscaling