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Physiological response to drought in seedlings of Pistacia lentiscus (mastic tree)


Drought is often an important constraint on plant regeneration in the Mediterranean. Pistacia lentiscus is of particular interest in restoration actions in fire-prone areas. This study addressed the current knowledge gap on the physiological response of this species to drought during its initial development. We hypothesized that the seedlings would have a high resistance to drought. In addition, we expected that seedlings from two sources with contrasting climate conditions would perform distinctly under drought. Seeds were collected from two populations in north and south Portugal. Seedlings were subjected to a progressively lower osmotic potential during 25 days, through increasing PEG concentration in the hydroponic solution. The physiological response of the seedlings was assessed by measuring gas exchange and chlorophyll fluorescence after 15 and 25 days of drought exposure, when the osmotic potential was −2.47 and −5.17 MPa, respectively. Shoot growth, net CO2 assimilation rate, stomatal conductance and transpiration were significantly reduced under drought conditions, whilst intrinsic water-use efficiency (IWUE) remained unaffected. This response partially agreed with the known strategy of P. lentiscus to cope with drought, typically maintaining high IWUE, however the observed reduction in stomatal conductance was not as pronounced as expected. Drought induced a decrease in leaf pigments that could be linked to photo-protective mechanisms. Seed source did not have a significant effect on drought response. P. lentiscus showed a high resistance to drought, which clearly supported its use in restoration actions in the Mediterranean, but these findings require further testing under field conditions.

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Fig. 1



Net CO2 assimilation rate


Transpiration rate

gs :

Stomatal conductance

Ci/Ca :

Ratio of intercellular to atmospheric CO2 concentration


Intrinsic water use efficiency

Fv/Fm :

Maximum photochemical efficiency of PSII

qP :

Photochemical quenching


Effective quantum efficiency of PSII


Non-photochemical quenching


Water content






Osmotic potential






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The authors would like to thank Diana Vieira, Xufeng Shen, Carlota Vaz and Mariana Pedro for their kind help provided in seed harvesting and to Jingxian Tao, Armando Costa, Cristina Monteiro, Paula Maia and Nelson Abrantes for their laboratory support. We are also very grateful to Banc de Llavors Forestalls de Valencia (Spain) for the indications on the seed handling protocols and to the reviewers and editors for their valuable comments. This study was funded by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) and QREN through the PhD grant of the first author (SFRH/BD/47522/2008) and the post-doctoral fellowship of M.C. Dias (SFRH/BPD/41700/2007). The post-doctoral fellowship of G. Pinto (BPD/UI88/2154/2014) was funded by Centro de Estudos do Ambiente e Mar-CESAM- INCENTIVO. The review process of this manuscript received funding from the European Union Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under Grant Agreement No. 283068 (CASCADE project).

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Vasques, A.R., Pinto, G., Dias, M.C. et al. Physiological response to drought in seedlings of Pistacia lentiscus (mastic tree). New Forests 47, 119–130 (2016).

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  • Osmotic stress
  • Polyethylene glycol
  • Ecological restoration
  • Resilience