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Water-use strategies of six co-existing Mediterranean woody species during a summer drought

Abstract

Drought stress is known to limit plant performance in Mediterranean-type ecosystems. We have investigated the dynamics of the hydraulics, gas exchange and morphology of six co-existing Mediterranean woody species growing under natural field conditions during a drought that continued during the entire summer. Based on the observed minimum leaf water potentials, our results suggest that the six co-existing species cover a range of plant hydraulic strategies, from isohydric to anisohydric. These differences are remarkable since the selected individuals grow within several meters of each other, sharing the same environment. Surprisingly, whatever the leaf water potentials were at the end of the dry period, stomatal conductance, photosynthesis and transpiration rates were relatively similar and low across species. This result contradicts the classic view that anisohydric species are able to maintain gas exchange for longer periods of time during drought stress. None of the plants showed the expected structural acclimation response to the increasing drought (reduction of leaf-to-sapwood area ratio), thereby rejecting the functional equilibrium hypothesis for our study system. Instead, three of the six species increased photosynthetic area at the branch level. The observed dissimilar patterns of gas exchange, hydraulics and morphology across species seem to be equally successful given that photosynthesis at the leaf level was maintained at similar rates over the whole dry period.

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Abbreviations

A :

Photosynthetic rate per area (μmol CO2 m−2 s−1)

A L :

Branch leaf area (mm2)

A S :

Cross-sectional stem area (mm2)

GSF:

Global site factor (unitless)

g s :

Stomatal conductance per area (mmol H2O m−2 s−1)

E :

Transpiration rate per area (mmol H2O m−2 s−1)

K h :

Maximum conductivity (kg m MPa−1 s−1)

K L :

Leaf-specific hydraulic conductivity (kg m−1 MPa−1 s−1)

K S :

Specific hydraulic conductivity (kg m−1 MPa−1 s−1)

P 50PLC :

Pressure causing 50% loss of K h (MPa)

PPFD:

Photosynthetic photon flux density (μmol m−2 s−1)

Ψl :

Leaf water potential (MPa)

Ψpd :

Predawn leaf water potential (MPa)

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Acknowledgements

We thank Saskia Grootemaat for her invaluable help during the field monitoring, Lars Markesteijn for his interesting discussions on hydraulics, Regino Zamora for the logistic support and José Manuel Quero, head of Sierra Cardeña y Montoro Natural Park, for the help and facilities provided during the monitoring period. Antonio Díaz-Espejo put order in our minds during the design of the measurements and so we could survive during the summer drought. Purificación de la Haba and Eloísa Agüera kindly lent us the IRGA. Vidal Barrón helped with the soil determinations and Pablo González Moreno with the spatial analysis. This study was supported by the postdoctoral grant MCINN (Spain) to J.L.Q (2007-0572), and by the coordinated Spanish MCINN projects DINAMED (CGL2005-05830), INTERBOS (CGL2008-04503-CO3-02) and CGL2007-60120. This research is part of the GLOBIMED network on forest ecology (http://www.globimed.net/).

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Correspondence to José L. Quero.

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Communicated by Hermann Heilmeier.

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Quero, J.L., Sterck, F.J., Martínez-Vilalta, J. et al. Water-use strategies of six co-existing Mediterranean woody species during a summer drought. Oecologia 166, 45–57 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-011-1922-3

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Keywords

  • Anisohydric
  • Embolism
  • Isohydric
  • Photosynthesis
  • Stomatal conductance
  • Water potential