Convergence of tree water use within an arid-zone woodland

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Journal Article
Oecologia, 2009, 160 (4), pp. 643 - 655
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We examined spatial and temporal patterns of tree water use and aspects of hydraulic architecture in four common tree species of central Australia-Corymbia opaca, Eucalyptus victrix, E. camaldulensis and Acacia aneura-to better understand processes that constrain water use in these environments. These four widely distributed species occupy contrasting niches within arid environments including woodlands, floodplains and riparian environments. Measurements of tree water use and leaf water potential were made at two sites with contrasting water table depths during a period of high soil water availability following summer rainfall and during a period of low soil water availability following 7 months of very little rainfall during 2007. There were significant differences in specific leaf area (SLA), sapwood area to leaf area ratios and sapwood density between species. Sapwood to leaf area ratio increased in all species from April to November indicating a decline in leaf area per unit sapwood area. Despite very little rainfall in the intervening period three species, C. opaca, E. victrix and E. camaldulensis maintained high leaf water potentials and tree water use during both periods. In contrast, leaf water potential and water use in the A. aneura were significantly reduced in November compared to April. Despite contrasting morphology and water use strategies, we observed considerable convergence in water use among the four species. Wood density in particular was strongly related to SLA, sapwood area to leaf area ratios and soil to leaf conductance, with all four species converging on a common relationship. Identifying convergence in hydraulic traits can potentially provide powerful tools for scaling physiological processes in natural ecosystems.
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