Leaf hairs: Effects on physiological activity and adaptive value to a desert shrub
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- Ehleringer, J.R. & Mooney, H.A. Oecologia (1978) 37: 183. doi:10.1007/BF00344990
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The effects of leaf hairs on photosynthesis, transpiration, and leaf energy balance were measured on the desert shrub Encelia farinosa in order to determine the adaptive significance of the hairs. The pubescence reduces leaf absorptance resulting in a reduced heat load, and as a consequence lower leaf temperatures and lower transpiration rates. In its native habitat where air temperatures often exceed 40° C, the optimum temperature for photosynthesis in E. farinosa occurs at 25° C, and at leaf temperatures above 35° C net photosynthesis declines precipitously. An advantage of leaf pubescence is that it allows a leaf temperature much lower than air temperature. As a result, leaf temperatures are near the temperature optimum for photosynthesis and high, potentially lethal leaf temperatures are avoided. However, there is a disadvantage associated with leaf pubescence. By reflecting quanta that might otherwise be used in photosynthesis, the presence of leaf hairs reduces the rate of photosynthesis. A tradeoff model was used to assess the overall advantage of possessing leaf hairs. In terms of the carbon gaining capacity of the leaf, the model predicted that for different environmental conditions different levels of leaf pubescence were optimal. In other words, under aird conditions and/or high air temperatures, leaves of E. farinosa would have a higher rate of photosynthesis by being pubescent than by not being pubescent. The predictions from this model agreed closely with observed patterns of leaf pubescence in the field.
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