, Volume 195, Issue 2, pp 273-285
Date: 01 Jul 2007

Light response in seedlings of a temperate (Quercus petraea ) and a sub-Mediterranean species (Quercus pyrenaica ): contrasting ecological strategies as potential keys to regeneration performance in mixed marginal populations

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Abstract

In order to understand better the ecology of the temperate species Quercus petraea and the sub-Mediterranean species Quercus pyrenaica, two deciduous oaks, seedlings were raised in two contrasting light environments (SH, 5.3% full sunlight vs. HL, 70% full sunlight) for 2 years, and a subset of the SH seedlings were transferred to HL (SH–HL) in the summer of the second year. We predicted that Q. pyrenaica would behave more as a stress-tolerant species, with lower specific leaf area (SLA), allocation to leaf mass, and growth rate and less responsiveness to light in these metrics, than Q. petraea, presumed to be more competitive when resources, especially light and water, are abundant. Seedlings of Q. petraea had larger leaves with higher SLA, and exhibited a greater relative growth rate (RGR) in both SH and HL. They also displayed a higher proportion of biomass in stems (SMF), and a lower root to shoot ratio (R/S) in HL than those of Q. pyrenaica, which sprouted profusely, and had higher rates of photosynthesis (An) and stomatal conductance (gwv), but lower whole-plant net assimilation rate (NAR). On exposure to a sudden increase in light, SH–HL seedlings of both species showed a short period of photoinhibition, but fully acclimated photosynthetic features within 46 days after transference; height, main stem diameter, RGR and NAR all increased at the end of the experiment compared to SH seedlings, with these increases more pronounced in Q. petraea. Observed differences in traits and responses to light confirmed a contrasting ecology at the seedling stage in Q. petraea and Q. pyrenaica in consonance with differences in their overall distribution. We discuss how the characteristics of Q. petraea may limit the availability of suitable regeneration niches to microsites of high-resource availability in marginal populations of Mediterranean climate, with potential negative consequences for its recruitment under predicted climatic changes.