, Volume 154, Issue 4, pp 625–635 | Cite as

Leaf shape linked to photosynthetic rates and temperature optima in South African Pelargonium species

  • A. B. Nicotra
  • M. J. Cosgrove
  • A. Cowling
  • C. D. Schlichting
  • C. S. Jones
Ecophysiology - Original Paper


The thermal response of gas exchange varies among plant species and with growth conditions. Plants from hot dry climates generally reach maximal photosynthetic rates at higher temperatures than species from temperate climates. Likewise, species in these environments are predicted to have small leaves with more-dissected shapes. We compared eight species of Pelargonium (Geraniaceae) selected as phylogenetically independent contrasts on leaf shape to determine whether: (1) the species showed plasticity in thermal response of gas exchange when grown under different water and temperature regimes, (2) there were differences among more- and less-dissected leafed species in trait means or plasticity, and (3) whether climatic variables were correlated with the responses. We found that a higher growth temperature led to higher optimal photosynthetic temperatures, at a cost to photosynthetic capacity. Optimal temperatures for photosynthesis were greater than the highest growth temperature regime. Stomatal conductance responded to growth water regime but not growth temperature, whereas transpiration increased and water use efficiency (WUE) decreased at the higher growth temperature. Strikingly, species with more-dissected leaves had higher rates of carbon gain and water loss for a given growth condition than those with less-dissected leaves. Species from lower latitudes and lower rainfall tended to have higher photosynthetic maxima and conductance, but leaf dissection did not correlate with climatic variables. Our results suggest that the combination of dissected leaves, higher photosynthetic rates, and relatively low WUE may have evolved as a strategy to optimize water delivery and carbon gain during short-lived periods of high soil moisture. Higher thermal optima, in conjunction with leaf dissection, may reflect selection pressure to protect photosynthetic machinery against excessive leaf temperatures when stomata close in response to water stress.


Dissection index Evaporative cooling Temperature response Photosynthesis Stomatal conductance 



We thank Christine Donnelly for help with data analysis, Susanne von Caemmerer for insightful discussion of the results, and Rachel Saunders (http://www.silverhillseeds.co.za) for seed collection. Two anonymous reviewers provided constructive comments on a previous version of the manuscript. This work was supported by an Australian Research Council grant to A. B. N., C. S. J. and C. D. S.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. B. Nicotra
    • 1
  • M. J. Cosgrove
    • 1
  • A. Cowling
    • 2
  • C. D. Schlichting
    • 3
  • C. S. Jones
    • 3
  1. 1.School of Botany and ZoologyThe Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.Statistical Consulting UnitThe Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  3. 3.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of ConnecticutStorrsUSA

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