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

Seasonal and Diurnal Patterns of Carbon Assimilation, Stomatal Conductance and Leaf Water Potential in Eucalyptus tetrodonta Saplings in a Wet–Dry Savanna in Northern Australia

L. D. Prior, D. Eamus and G. A. Duff

Australian Journal of Botany 45(2) 241 - 258
Published: 1997


Seasonal and diurnal trends in carbon assimilation, stomatal conductance and leaf water potential were studied using 1–3 m tall saplings of Eucalyptus tetrodonta (F.Muell.). The study site was in an unburnt savanna near Darwin, where rainfall is strongly seasonal. Mean daily maximum assimilation rates ranged from 14.5 µmol m-2 s-1 in May to 4.8 µmol m-2 s-1 in October. There was a linear relationship between daily maximum assimilation rates and pre-dawn leaf water potential (r = 0.62, n = 508) and a log–log linear relationship between daily maximum stomatal conductance and pre-dawn leaf water potential (r = 0.68, n = 508). Assimilation rates and stomatal conductance were always higher in the morning than in the afternoon, irrespective of season. Stomatal conductance responded more strongly to leaf-to-air vapour pressure difference when pre-dawn leaf water potentials were moderately low (–0.5 to –1.5 MPa) than when they were very low (< –1.5 MPa) or high (> –0.5 MPa). Assimilation decreased sharply when temperature exceeded 35˚C. Seasonal trends in assimilation rate could be attributed primarily to stomatal closure, but diurnal trends could not. High leaf temperatures were a major cause of lower assimilation rates in the afternoon. Approximately 90% of leaves were lost by the end of the dry season, and above-ground growth was very slow. It is hypothesised that E. tetrodonta saplings allocate most photosynthate to root and lignotuber growth in order to tolerate seasonal drought and the high frequency of fire in northern Australian savannas.

© CSIRO 1997

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