Monday, September 5, 2011

Drought and stress tolerance

Comparison of photosynthetic rates for seedlings of dry- and wet-habitat tropical tree species. On average, photosynthetic rates were ~1/3rd higher for dry-habitat species. 

I wrote a bit on this just the other day, but here is a new paper that raises questions about whether low-water species should be considered "stress-tolerators". Pineda-Garcia et al. grew seedlings of 10 pairs of closely related tropical tree species and measured a suite of traits. Dry-habitat species had higher photosynthetic rates than wet-habitat species. In addition, dry-habitat species retained their leaves longer after watering was ceased.

There are always a number of ways plasticity can alter relationships. For example, I once showed that high resource species can have lower N concentrations and longer leaf longevity than low-nutrient species due to patterns of feedbacks to N cycling after establishment. Here, there are a number of mechanisms that could generate the higher photosynthetic rates and longer leaf longevity in this particular experiment that could be reversed in another. Parsimony accrues slowly.

Yet, overall, this is another example where drought-tolerant species are not necessarily following the general "stress-tolerator" syndrome. It will be interesting to begin to officially tally the evidence to see whether there is much support for the two to be linked.

Pineda-Garcia, F., H. Paz, and C. Tinoco-Ojanguren. 2011. Morphological and physiological differentiation of seedlings between dry and wet habitats in a tropical dry forest. Plant, Cell & Environment 34:1536-1547.

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