, Volume 79, Issue 3, pp 332–343

Patterns of water use and the tissue water relations in the dioecious shrub, Salix arctica: the physiological basis for habitat partitioning between the sexes

  • Todd E. Dawson
  • L. C. Bliss

DOI: 10.1007/BF00384312

Cite this article as:
Dawson, T.E. & Bliss, L.C. Oecologia (1989) 79: 332. doi:10.1007/BF00384312


Within the high arctic of Canada, Salix arctica, a dioecious, dwarf willow exhibits significant spatial segregation of the sexes. The overall sex ratio is female-biased and female plants are especially common in wet, higher nutrient, but lower soil temperature habitats. In contrast, male plants predominate in more xeric and lower nutrient habitats with higher soil temperatures that can be drought prone. Associated with the sex-specific habitat differences were differences in the seasonal and diurnal patterns of water use as measured by stomatal conductance to water vapor and the bulk tissue water relations of each gender. Within the wet habitats, female plants maintained higher rates of stomatal conductance (g) than males when soil and root temperatures were low (<4° C). In contrast, within the xeric habitats, male plants maintained higher g and had lower leaf water potentials Ψleaf at low soil water potentials and a high leaf-to-air vapor pressure gradient (Δw) when compared to females. Female plants had more positive carbon isotope ratios than males indicating a lower internal leaf carbon dioxide concentration and possibly higher water use efficiency relative to males. Tissue osmotic and elastic properties also differed between the sexes. Male plants demonstrated lower tissue osmotic potentials near full tissue hydration and at the turgor loss point and a lower bulk tissue elastic modulus (higher tissue elasticity) than female plants. Males also demonstrated a greater ability to osmotically adjust on a diurnal basis than females. These properties allowed male plants to maintain higher tissue turgor pressures at lower tissue water contents and Ψsoil over the course of the day. The sex-specific distributional and ecophysiological characteristics were also correlated with greater total plant growth and higher fecundity of females in wet habitats, and males in xeric habitats respectively. The intersexual differences in physiology persisted in all habitats. These results and those obtained from growth chamber studies suggest that sex-specific differences have an underlying genetic basis. From these data we conjecture that selection maintaining the intersexual differences may be related to different costs associated with reproduction that can be most easily met through physiological specialization and spatial segregation of the sexes among habitats of differing conditions.

Key words

Water relationsGrowthSex-specific variationArcticSalix

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Todd E. Dawson
    • 1
  • L. C. Bliss
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Botany, KB-15University of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyUniversity of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA