Physiological response to complex environments in annual Polygonum species of contrasting ecological breadth
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Individual physiological response to complex environments is a major factor in the ecological breadth of species. This study compared individual patterns of both long-term and short-term response to controlled, multifactorial environments in four annual Polygonum species that differ in field distribution (P. cespitosum, P. hydropiper, P. lapathifolium, and P. persicaria). To test long-term response, instantaneous net photosynthetic rate and stomatal conductance were measured in situ on one full-sib replicate from five inbred lineages from each of five field populations per species, raised in all possible combinations of low or high light; dry, moist, or flooded soil; and poor or rich nutrient status. Short-term plastic adjustment to changes in light level was examined by switching individual plants of the four species from one of six multifactorial growth environments to the contrasting light environment, and measuring assimilation rates 1 h after transfer. The Polygonum species differed significantly in their patterns of long-term photosynthetic response to particular resources and resource combinations. The species known to have relatively broad ecological distributions (P. persicaria and P. lapathifolium) maintained high photosynthetic performance in a variety of moisture and nutrient environments when grown in high light, while the more narrowly distributed P. hydropiper maintained such functional levels only if given both high light and ample macronutrients. P. cespitosum, a species limited to shaded habitats, maintained low photosynthetic rates across the environmental range. Complex differences among the species in instantaneous water use efficiency (WUE) reflected their highly specific and to some extent independent patterns of photosynthetic and stomatal response to the multifactorial environments. The species also differed significantly in short-term physiological adjustment to changes in light level. Plants of P. persicaria and P. cespitosum reached 78% and 98%, respectively, of their maximum photosynthetic rates 1 h after transfer from low to high light, but P. hydropiper and P. lapathifolium plants reached only c. 60% of their maximum rates. When switched from high to low light, P. persicaria and P. cespitosum plants maintained 64–76% of their maximum rates, while P. hydropiper and P. lapathifolium plants decreased photosynthetic rates sharply to less than 50% of their maximum rates. These results indicate that the latter two species will be less able to maintain effective functional levels in variable light environments, a result consistent with their distributions in the field.
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