Stomatal structure and physiology do not explain differences in water use among montane eucalypts

Abstract

Understanding the regulation of water use at the whole-tree scale is critical to advancing the utility of physiological ecology, for example in its role in predictive hydrology of forested catchments. For three eucalypt species that dominate high-elevation catchments in south-eastern Australia, we examined if whole-tree water use could be related to three widely discussed regulators of water use: stomatal anatomy, sensitivity of stomata [i.e. stomatal conductance (g s)] to environmental influences, and sapwood area. While daily tree water use varied sixfold among species, sap velocity and sapwood area varied in parallel. Combined, stomatal structure and physiology could not explain differences in species-specific water use. Species which exhibited the fastest (Eucalyptus delegatensis) and slowest (Eucalyptus pauciflora) rates of water use both exhibited greater capacity for physiological control of g s [indicated by sensitivity to vapour pressure deficit (VPD)] and a reduced capacity to limit g s anatomically [indicated by greater potential g s (g max)]. Conversely, g s was insensitive to VPD and g max was lowest for Eucalyptus radiata, the species showing intermediate rates of water use. Improved knowledge of stomatal anatomy will help us to understand the capacity of species to regulate leaf-level water loss, but seems likely to remain of limited use for explaining rates of whole-tree water use in montane eucalypts at the catchment scale.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Michael Kemp, Neil Murdoch, Joseph Henry, Alexandra Barlow and Rachel Walker for field assistance, Peter Franks for advice regarding stomatal analysis, Tom Buckley for constructive comments, and Kevin Simonin for clarifying discussions. This study was funded by Australian Research Council Linkage Project LP0989881.

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Correspondence to Mana Gharun.

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Communicated by Fernando Valladares.

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Gharun, M., Turnbull, T.L., Pfautsch, S. et al. Stomatal structure and physiology do not explain differences in water use among montane eucalypts. Oecologia 177, 1171–1181 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-015-3252-3

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Keywords

  • Ecophysiology
  • Sap flow
  • Stomatal conductance
  • Cuticular ledge
  • Vapour pressure deficit