Comparative hydraulic architecture of tropical tree species representing a range of successional stages and wood density
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- McCulloh, K.A., Meinzer, F.C., Sperry, J.S. et al. Oecologia (2011) 167: 27. doi:10.1007/s00442-011-1973-5
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Plant hydraulic architecture (PHA) has been linked to water transport sufficiency, photosynthetic rates, growth form and attendant carbon allocation. Despite its influence on traits central to conferring an overall competitive advantage in a given environment, few studies have examined whether key aspects of PHA are indicative of successional stage, especially within mature individuals. While it is well established that wood density (WD) tends to be lower in early versus late successional tree species, and that WD can influence other aspects of PHA, the interaction of WD, successional stage and the consequent implications for PHA have not been sufficiently explored. Here, we studied differences in PHA at the scales of wood anatomy to whole-tree hydraulic conductance in species in early versus late successional Panamanian tropical forests. Although the trunk WD was indistinguishable between the successional groups, the branch WD was lower in the early successional species. Across all species, WD correlated negatively with vessel diameter and positively with vessel packing density. The ratio of branch:trunk vessel diameter, branch sap flux and whole-tree leaf-specific conductance scaled negatively with branch WD across species. Pioneer species showed greater sap flux in branches than in trunks and a greater leaf-specific hydraulic conductance, suggesting that pioneer species can move greater quantities of water at a given tension gradient. In combination with the greater water storage capacitance associated with lower WD, these results suggest these pioneer species can save on the carbon expenditure needed to build safer xylem and instead allow more carbon to be allocated to rapid growth.