, Volume 95, Issue 3, pp 303-313

Temperate rainforest lichens in New Zealand: high thallus water content can severely limit photosynthetic CO2 exchange

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Abstract

CO2 exchange rate in relation to thallus water content (WC, % of dry weight) was determined for 22 species of lichens, mainly members of the genera Pseudocyphellaria and Sticta, from a temperate rainforest, Urewere National Park, New Zealand. All data were obtained in the field, either using a standard technique in which the lichens were initially wetted (soaked or sprayed, then shaken) and allowed to slowly dry, or from periodic measurements on samples that were continuously exposed in their natural habitat. A wide range of WC was found, with species varying from 357 to 3360% for maximal WC in the field, and from 86 to 1300% for optimal WC for photosynthesis. Maximal WC for lichens, wetted by the standard technique, were almost always much less than the field maxima, due to the presence of water on the thalli. The relationships between CO2 exchange rate and WC could be divided into four response types based on the presence, and degree, of depression of photosynthesis at high WC. Type A lichens showed no depression, and Type B only a little at maximal WC. Type C had a very large depression and, at the highest WC, CO2 release could occur even in the light. Photosynthetic depression commenced soon after optimal WC was reached. Type D lichens showed a similar depression but the response curve had an inflection so that net photosynthesis was low but almost constant, and never negative, at higher WC. There was little apparent relationship between lichen genus or photobiont type and the response type. It was shown that high WC does limit photosynthetic CO2 uptake under natural conditions. Lichens, taken directly from the field and allowed to dry under controlled conditions, had net photosynthesis rates that were initially strongly inhibited but rose to an optimum, before declining at low WC. The limiting effects of high WC were clearly shown when, under similar light conditions, severe photosynthetic depression followed a brief, midday, rain storm. Over the whole measuring period the lichens were rarely at their optimal WC for photosynthesis, being mostly too wet or, occasionally, too dry. Photosynthetic performance by the lichens exposed in the field was similar to that expected from the relationship between the photosynthetic rate and WC established by the standard procedure.