Physiological ecology - Original research

Oecologia

, Volume 170, Issue 4, pp 885-897

Osmotic and elastic adjustments in cold desert shrubs differing in rooting depth: coping with drought and subzero temperatures

  • Fabian G. ScholzAffiliated withConsejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET)Grupo de Estudios Biofísicos y Eco-fisiológicos (GEBEF), Departamento de Biología, Facultad de Ciencias Naturales, Universidad Nacional de la Patagonia San Juan Bosco Email author 
  • , Sandra J. BucciAffiliated withConsejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET)Grupo de Estudios Biofísicos y Eco-fisiológicos (GEBEF), Departamento de Biología, Facultad de Ciencias Naturales, Universidad Nacional de la Patagonia San Juan Bosco
  • , Nadia AriasAffiliated withConsejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET)Grupo de Estudios Biofísicos y Eco-fisiológicos (GEBEF), Departamento de Biología, Facultad de Ciencias Naturales, Universidad Nacional de la Patagonia San Juan Bosco
  • , Frederick C. MeinzerAffiliated withUSDA Forest Service, Forestry Sciences Laboratory
  • , Guillermo GoldsteinAffiliated withConsejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET)Laboratorio de Ecología Funcional (LEF), Departamento de Ecología, Genética y Evolución, FCEyN, Universidad de Buenos AiresDepartment of Biology, University of Miami

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Abstract

Physiological adjustments to enhance tolerance or avoidance of summer drought and winter freezing were studied in shallow- to deep-rooted Patagonian cold desert shrubs. We measured leaf water potential (ΨL), osmotic potential, tissue elasticity, stem hydraulic characteristics, and stomatal conductance (g S) across species throughout the year, and assessed tissue damage by subzero temperatures during winter. Species behavior was highly dependent on rooting depth. Substantial osmotic adjustment (up to 1.2 MPa) was observed in deep-rooted species exhibiting relatively small seasonal variations in ΨL and with access to a more stable water source, but having a large difference between predawn and midday ΨL. On the other hand, shallow-rooted species exposed to large seasonal changes in ΨL showed limited osmotic adjustment and incomplete stomatal closure, resulting in turgor loss during periods of drought. The bulk leaf tissue elastic modulus (ε) was lower in species with relatively shallow roots. Daily variation in g S was larger in shallow-rooted species (more than 50 % of its maximum) and was negatively associated with the difference between ΨL at the turgor loss point and minimum ΨL (safety margin for turgor maintenance). All species increased ε by about 10 MPa during winter. Species with rigid tissue walls exhibited low leaf tissue damage at −20 °C. Our results suggest that osmotic adjustment was the main water relationship adaptation to cope with drought during summer and spring, particularly in deep-rooted plants, and that adjustments in cell wall rigidity during the winter helped to enhance freezing tolerance.

Keywords

Elastic modulus Hydraulic conductivity Stomatal conductance Tissue injury Water relationships