Variation in photosynthetic traits related to access to water in semiarid Australian woody species

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Journal Article
Functional Plant Biology, 2017, 44 (11), pp. 1087 - 1097
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© 2017 CSIRO. Low soil water content can limit photosynthesis by reducing stomatal conductance. Here, we explore relationships among traits pertaining to carbon uptake and pre-dawn leaf water potential (as an index of soil water availability) across eight species found in semiarid central Australia. We found that as pre-dawn leaf water potential declined, stomatal limitations to photosynthesis increased, as did foliar nitrogen, which enhanced photosynthesis. Nitrogen-fixing Acacia species had higher foliar nitrogen concentrations compared with non-nitrogen fixing species, although there was considerable variability of traits within the Acacia genus. From principal component analysis we found that the most dissimilar species was Acacia aptaneura Maslin&J.E.Reid compared with both Eucalyptus camaldulensis Dehnh. and Corymbia opaca. (D.J.Carr & S.G.M.Carr)K.D.Hill&L.A.S.Johnson, having both the largest foliar N content, equal largest leaf mass per area and experiencing the lowest pre-dawn water potential of all species. A. aptaneura has shallow roots and grows above a hardpan that excludes access to groundwater, in contrast to E. camaldulensis and C. opaca, which are known to access groundwater. We conclude that ecohydrological niche separation is an important factor driving the variability of within-biome traits related to carbon gain. These observations have important implications for global vegetation models, which are parameterised with many of the traits measured here, but are often limited by data availability.
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