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Protocols in ecological and environmental plant physiology


Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 57(8)

Water relations of woody plants on contrasting soils during drought: does edaphic compensation account for dry rainforest distribution?

Timothy J. Curran A B, Peter J. Clarke A, Nigel W. M. Warwick A

A Botany, School of Environmental and Rural Science, University of New England, Armidale NSW 2351, Australia.
B Corresponding author. Current address: The School for Field Studies, PO Box 141, Yungaburra, Qld 4884, Australia. Email: tcurran@fieldstudies.org
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The occurrence of dry rainforest in climates considered drier than the recognised limit for rainforest has been explained by the edaphic compensation hypothesis, which proposed that finer-textured soils facilitate the occurrence of rainforest at climatic extremes. We tested this by examining the effect of soil type on the water relations and plant traits of four dry rainforest species, during a severe drought and subsequent non-drought periods. We predicted plants growing in sandy soils would exhibit higher levels of water stress (lower predawn water potential and stomatal conductance) and possess morphological and physiological traits that more typically reflect drought resistance (late leaf fall in deciduous species, low specific leaf area, vertical leaf angles and stomata that close at low water potential) than those growing in loam soils. During drought, levels of water stress were similar across soil types, while post-drought plants on sandy soils were less stressed. Soil type did not cause shifts in drought tolerance traits, suggesting there has been no ecotypic differentiation of dry rainforest species across soil types for these traits. Hence, we found no support for the edaphic compensation hypothesis in adult plants; future studies should consider other life-cycle stages, such as seedlings.

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