Australian Journal of Botany Australian Journal of Botany Society
Southern hemisphere botanical ecosystems
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Relative humidity has dramatic impacts on leaf morphology but little effect on stomatal index or density in Nothofagus cunninghamii (Nothofagaceae)

Mark J. Hovenden A B , Jacqueline K. Vander Schoor A and Yui Osanai A

A School of Plant Science, University of Tasmania, Private Bag 55, Hobart, Tas. 7001, Australia.

B Corresponding author. Email: mark.hovenden@utas.edu.au

Australian Journal of Botany 60(8) 700-706 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/BT12110
Submitted: 6 August 2012  Accepted: 14 October 2012   Published: 23 November 2012

Abstract

Reconstructing past environmental conditions using proxies based on fossil and subfossil leaves is difficult because leaf form is influenced by many interacting environmental factors such as temperature, CO2 concentration, light, soil water availability and, potentially, atmospheric relative humidity (RH). We used a species important for palaeo-environmental reconstruction, the southern beech, Nothofagus cunninghamii, to test for the effects of a 50% difference in RH on leaf morphology and epidermal anatomy in a glasshouse experiment. Leaf size, shape and thickness were all strongly affected by RH with leaves from high humidity being larger, narrower and thicker than those from low humidity regardless of plant accession. RH impacts on epidermal characters were generally slight and dependent upon accession. In particular, epidermal cell size was remarkably consistent across accessions and RH levels. Thus, gross leaf morphology of N. cunninghamii was sensitive to changes in RH but, on average, epidermal characters were not. Thus, palaeoenvironmental signals from the epidermis of this species are unlikely to be affected by variation in RH, provided sufficient numbers of leaves are investigated. Gross leaf morphology, however, was strongly related to RH and should not be used for palaeo-climatic reconstruction if changes in RH are likely.


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