, Volume 257, Issue 2, pp 295-304

Seasonal patterns in water use and leaf turnover of different plant functional types in a species-rich woodland, south-western Australia

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Abstract

Woodlands in south-western Australia are evergreen and transpire throughout the year despite the long, hot and dry summers of the Mediterranean climate. Results from a case study in a species-rich Banksia woodland are used to discuss the ecological and physiological properties that appear to be essential features of this and similar communities. Tree, shrub and perennial herbaceous species with long-lived leaves dominate the community, whereas winter-green herbaceous species with short-lived leaves constitute a minor group. The total leaf area index is therefore reasonably constant in all seasons. Leaf area index is low and canopies are open, causing good coupling between the vegetation and the atmosphere, and making stomatal control an effective regulator of transpiration. Mean maximum (winter) stomatal conductances were high at approximately 300 mmol m−2 s−1. Deep-rootedness allows the dominant species to access soil moisture throughout the unsaturated zone, and down to the capillary fringe of the saturated zone. Shrubs and herbs with shallow roots experience greater drought stress during summer. Rates of community evapotranspiration are limited by leaf area index in the wet season, and further reduced by stomatal closure in the dry season. Deep-rooted plants appear to decrease their stomatal conductance before the development of severe drought stress. Such conservative behaviour, possibly related to plant hydraulic constraints, is a contributing factor to the limited seasonality in community water use.