Functional Plant Biology Functional Plant Biology Society
Plant function and evolutionary biology
RESEARCH ARTICLE

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

Rachael H. Nolan A B , Tonantzin Tarin A , Kendal A. Fairweather A , James Cleverly A and Derek Eamus A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A School of Life Sciences, University of Technology Sydney, PO Box 123, Broadway, NSW 2007, Australia.

B Corresponding author. Email: rachael.nolan@uts.edu.au

Functional Plant Biology - https://doi.org/10.1071/FP17096
Submitted: 17 October 2016  Accepted: 11 July 2017   Published online: 15 August 2017

Abstract

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.

Additional keywords: carbon uptake, gas exchange, photosynthesis, respiration, water-use efficiency, Vcmax.


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