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Foliar water uptake in arid ecosystems: seasonal variability and ecophysiological consequences

  • Physiological ecology – original research
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Abstract

Foliar water uptake (FWU) has been reported for different species across several ecosystems types. However, little attention has been given to arid ecosystems, where FWU during dew formation or small rain events could ameliorate water deficits. FWU and their effects on leaf water potential (ΨLeaf) were evaluated in grasses and shrubs exploring different soil water sources in a Patagonian steppe. Also, seasonal variability in FWU and the role of cell wall elasticity in determining the effects on ΨLeaf were assessed. Eleven small rain events (< 8 mm) and 45 days with dew formation were recorded during the study period. All species exhibited FWU after experimental wetting. There was a large variability in FWU across species, from 0.04 mmol m−2 s−1 in species with deep roots to 0.75 mmol m−2 s−1 in species with shallow roots. Species-specific mean FWU rates were positively correlated with mean transpiration rates. The increase in ΨLeaf after leaf wetting varied between 0.65 MPa and 1.67 MPa across species and seasons. The effects of FWU on ΨLeaf were inversely correlated with cell wall elasticity. FWU integrated over both seasons varied between 28 mol m−2 in species with deep roots to 361 mol m−2 in species with shallow roots. Taking into account the percentage of coverage of each species, accumulated FWU represented 1.6% of the total annual transpiration of grasses and shrubs in this ecosystem. Despite this low FWU integrated over time compared to transpiration, wetting leaves surfaces can help to avoid larger water deficit during the dry season.

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Acknowledgements

The authors acknowledge the funding support from Fondo para la Promoción Científica y Tecnológica (FONCyT; Grant PICT 2013-2426, PICT 2016-3019) and Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (Grant No. PUE 22920180100033). We thank the staff of Instituto Nacional de Tecnologia Agropecuaria (INTA) for allowing the access and assistance in the Rio Mayo Experimental Field. This work complies with Argentinian law.

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AC, SJB and FGS formulated the idea and designed the experiments. AC, LCS and DAP performed the experiments, AC analyzed the data, SJB and AC wrote the manuscript, FGS and GG contributed critically to the drafts. All authors contributed to and gave approval for the final version.

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Correspondence to Sandra J. Bucci.

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Communicated by Susanne Schwinning.

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Cavallaro, A., Carbonell Silleta, L., Pereyra, D.A. et al. Foliar water uptake in arid ecosystems: seasonal variability and ecophysiological consequences. Oecologia 193, 337–348 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-020-04673-1

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